The Dragon’s Den beneath the Wawel Royal Castle is one of the attractions of Krakow that stimulates the imagination of residents and guests. The Cave is associated with the famous legend of the Wawel dragon, a mythical creature living under the Wawel Hill, which terrorized the inhabitants of the Royal City.
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In fairy tales and legends about the Wawel dragon, we can hear about the cavern that the creature lived in. Once a week, the mysterious beast demanded a certain number of cattle of the dwellers of the city. If the dwellers did not meet the demands of the creature, they were punished by losing an equivalent number of young virgins. Then Prince Krak announced that “whoever kills the dragon will receive half of the kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage.”
The steadfast shoemaker Dratewka stuffed the sheep’s skin with sulfur and tossed it under the mentioned Cave. The hungry monster with appetite ate the “sheep” and then went to the Vistula to quench his thirst. He drank so much water and finally exploded. The shoemaker received the promised rewards.
History of the Cave
According to the chronicles, in 1565, Zygmunt II August ordered to wall it up because it was inhabited by homeless people and thieves. In the following years, it was decided to open the main entrance and adapt the interior to the inn. The two chambers had a banquet hall and a warehouse. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Cave served as a brothel.
In the 18th century, the business had to be closed. This was not due to the lack of clients, but the decision to fortify Wawel. The bottom entrance was walled up, but there were still two holes left in the ceiling. It was through one of them in 1829 that the historian and archaeologist Ambroży Grabowski came inside. Later, the entrances were walled up again, and finally, in 1918, the Dragon Cave was opened to tourists.
Visiting ‘Dragon’s Lair’
Today, the main tourist route in the Cave is 82 m long and leads along corridors and across chambers. The entrance to the Cave is next to the Thieves’ Tower. After you buy your ticket from a coin-operated machine at the gate, you descend a flight of steps to the dark and mysterious Cave.
The exit leads directly to the impressive sculpture of a fire-breathing dragon. The work of Bronisław Chromy has been standing here since 1972. Few people know that “Smocza Jama” is the only tourist attraction of this type available in such a large city in Europe.
The legend of the dragon is commemorated by a 6-meter statue of the mysterious beast, created by Bronisław Chromy. The monument was made in 1969 and has been at the foot of the Wawel Hill since 1972.
Cast in bronze and set on a large boulder, the sculpture is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Initially, it was planned that the monument should be partially submerged in the Vistula rivers. Unfortunately, for fear that the garbage carried by the river will settle on its construction, this idea was abandoned.
Interestingly, the sculpture is powered by natural gas, which makes the dragon breathe real fire.
Currently, the dragon breathes fire around the clock, at 10-minute intervals. Now, the sculpture is one of the most visited monuments of Krakow, especially loved by the youngest tourists.
Bones of the Dragon
At the west entrance to the Wawel Cathedral hang bones, considered by some as remains of the Wawel dragon. Interestingly, the legend says that when the bones fall from the chain will end the world. That is also why they are treated with extreme caution and delicacy. According to sources, bones have been hanging in this place since the early Middle Ages.
The riddle was solved in 1937, when Henryk Hoyer, a Jagiellonian University professor, based on the conducted research, stated that the bones hanging over the entrance to the cathedral are the remains of a rhinoceros skull, half of the lower jaw of a whale and a mammoth. The myth about the end of the world is still alive among locals; that’s why the chains on which the debris hangs are extremely carefully maintained every time.
The Cave is open every day from April to October.
The Cave is closed from November 1 to March 31.
Admission: 5 PLN
Route length – approx. 80 m.
Visiting time – approx. 20 minutes.
The Dragon’s Den is not accessible to visitors in wheelchairs or with mobility impairments. The Cave is reached by descending a narrow spiral staircase (135 steep steps descending 70 feet); as the Cave is a natural geological formation, the floor is uneven and can be slippery.
Reference: Wawel Royal Castle – Accessibility. https://wawel.krakow.pl/en/accessibility