Legends and folklore from around Poland

Poland is a country with beautiful cities, mountains and forests.  But, beneath the beauty, it has a strange history of kings being eaten by mice, musicians being hit by arrows and dragons drinking so much that they pop.

Here we explore the myths and folklore of different areas of Poland:

Gniezno:

View of Gniezno, Poland, across the lake.
View of Gniezno. Photo: Wulfstan

The legend of the creation of Poland centres on Gniezno.  The story goes that one of three brothers was out hunting when he saw a white eagle guarding its nest.  Taking it as a good sign, the settlement of Gniezno (meaning nest) was built and became the first capital – the white eagle remains a symbol of Poland to this day.

Coat of arms of Poland; a white eagle on a red background.
Coat of arms of Poland

Another, more gruesome, Gniezno legend relates to the fate of Prince Popiel II.  The prince was a terrible ruler so his uncles conspired to get rid of him but, before they could, Popiel poisoned them all during a feast and threw their bodies into Lake Goplo.

Mouse Tower in Kruszwica, near Gniezno.
Mouse Tower in Kruszwica, near Gniezno. Photo: Bast

Well, the locals didn’t like that, so they rebelled and the prince and his wife hid in a tower by the lake. Unfortunately for them, thousands of mice and rats, who had been eating the dead uncles, decided they wanted something a bit fresher.  They chewed their way through the walls and ate Popiel alive.

Częstochowa:

Tower of Jasna Góra monastery.
Tower of Jasna Góra monastery. Photo: Beemwej

The Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa is said to be the site of another famous Polish legend. During the ‘Swedish Deluge’ of the seventeenth century, the Swedish army laid siege to the monastery but were unable to capture it – because the Virgin Mary had lifted it in to the heavens, making it impossible for their artillery to hit it.

An icon of the Virgin Mary, known as the Black Madonna of Częstochowa,is still on display at the monastery and is considered to be the most popular shrine in Poland.

Black Madonna of Częstochowa
Black Madonna of Częstochowa. Photo: Dennis Jarvis

Kraków:

You won’t be surprised to hear that some of Poland’s legends involve dragons, including one who used to live under Wawel castle in Kraków.  This dragon was a right nuisance, eating everyone’s sheep and generally scaring the villagers, so one day a local tailor decided to do something about it; he sewed flammable substances into a sheep and then fed it to the dragon.

Wawel Castle in Krakow, seen from the river.
Wawel Castle from the river. Photo: Jean-Paul Navarro

Understandably, the flaming substances in his tummy made the dragon very thirsty, so he began to drink from the river.  He drank and drank and drank until he popped like a bubble and the tailor became a local folk legend.

St Mary's Church, Kraków.
St Mary’s Church in the main square, Kraków. Photo: Paul Arps

As well as being a great place to visit, the famous square market in the centre of Kraków also has its own legend.

The story goes that, during an invasion of Poland, a sentry on St Mary’s Church noticed some approaching Mongol troops and so played a trumpet as a warning.  Unfortunately, the poor guy took an arrow in the throat before he could finish his tune.  Nowadays, St Mary’s Trumpet Call is played from the church’s tower every hour, with the five-note anthem ending abruptly,as if stopped before it could be completed.

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About Marcin Raczek

Marcin Raczek

My favourite holiday experience was when I went to Turkey when I was a 13. It was a beautiful country with a rich culture and I will definitely go back to see more of it.

The part of the holiday I enjoyed most was Pamukkale and the fact you could swim in a pool full of ancient ruins. I also enjoyed going through the temples which showed the way the ancient civilisation lived and there was even a city fully landscaped in the rock side of a mountain, which looked amazing and was extremely interesting.

I also enjoy travelling within Poland as there are beautiful landscapes and mountains.

Marcin works in our customer service department

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