The Dragon’s Den, a legendary cave in the western slope of Wawel Hill, is surely among great curiosities of Wawel. The oldest version of a legend about the dragon of Wawel, related to the mythic beginning of Cracow, can be found in the Chronicle of Master Vincent called Kadlubek (from the turn of the 13th century):
In the tunnels of a certain rock there lived an immensely dreadful monster, whom some used to call the whole-eater. Every week his voracity called for a fixed number of cattle. If the settlers had not supplied the cattle (as sacrificial beasts) they would be punished by losing the equivalent number of human heads. Grakch [Cracus] could not tolerate the shame of this [...] and he secretly called his sons, told them of his intention and presented a solution [...] To which they answered: [...] ‘It is you who has the power to give orders, and we are here to obey’. Having experienced many, and generally futile, skirmishes, they were forced to use deception. In the place of the cattle they put cattle’s skins stuffed with ignited sulphur. And when the whole-eater swallowed it with great appetite, he suffocated from the outburst of an internal fire. Immediately after this, the younger brother attacked and killed the older, his partner in victory and in the kingdom, treating him not as a companion but as a competitor. He lied that it was the monster who was guilty of the killing, and his father happily accepted him as a winner. Thus the younger Cracus succeeded his father, benefiting from his crime! But he was tainted with fratricide longer than he was awarded with power. Soon after, the deceit came to light, and as punishment for his deed, he was banished forever[...] And it was indeed on the rock of the whole-eater that the famous city was soon established, named Cracovia from Cracus’ name, to commemorate him forever. The funeral ceremony finished only when the city was completed. Some named it Cracow because of the crowing of the crows, who flew in attracted by the carcass of the monster.
Jan Dlugosz changed this version of the legend by writing that it was King Cracus himself who killed the dragon. At the end of the 16th century Joachim Bielski introduced the character of a sly cobbler Skuba to the legend, and this is the most popular version nowadays.
A visit to the Dragon’s Lair begins at the foot of the Thieves’ Tower by going down a staircase in a brick tower (a former Austrian well). The cave is 270 metres long, of which 81 metres are open to the public.
The first and the lowest northern ‘A’ chamber was filled with water until the 19th century and the water was used to supply Wawel’s buildings.
Dragon's Den - chamber B
A short, narrow passage leads to the main middle ‘B’ chamber which is the largest; 25m long and up to 10m high. This chamber is divided, by a simultaneous narrowing and heightening, into two parts which create the most picturesque part of the interior. In its highest point it is covered with a bricked dome from 1830 which closes the vault opening. It was through this opening that in 1829 a historian Ambroży Grabowski entered the cave and was the first to describe its appearance. Through his efforts the Dragon’s Lair opened to visitors in 1843-1846.
On the left, behind a wooden post, a tunnel which was dug in 1974, protected by a grating and leading to a side sequence of corridors, can be found. The narrow and muddy corridors, 160 metres in length, with five little lakes inhabited by a rare crustacean studniczek tatrzański (‘Tatra’s welldweller’), are closed to visitors. The other, higher part of the middle chamber was used, in the 17th and the 18th centuries, for storage and as a banquet room by a tavern located in front of the entrance over Vistula river.
The southern and the last ’C’ chamber is 11m long, 5.8m wide and 4m high. A stone vault is supported by a set of brick pillars. This section is decorated by rock projections, chimneys and karstic fissures. This is where the main room of the tavern was.
We exit the Cave through a pointed arch portal and a vestibule. On the Vistula Boulevard visitors stand in front of a sculpture of the Wawel Dragon created by Bronisław Chromy in 1972.
After 1918, when Poland regained its independence, the Dragon’s Lair was prepared for visitors by prof. Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz.
From 1966 to 1976 thorough preservation and conservation work was conducted, and in 2002 the interior lighting system was modernized.