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Krakow curiosities. Unique in Krakow


 
Hejnal

Every hour from the highest tower of St. Mary's Church, the Hejnal is played on the trumpet to the four quarters of the world in turn. The Hejnal is now a musical symbol of the city. According to a legend, the melody comes from the first half of the 13th c. when the watchman on duty saw the Tatars approaching and sounded the melody, which acted as a warning. He didn't finish the call, however, because was shot by a Tatar arrow through the throat, although he did save the town from destruction. For this reason, the tune is played up to the point where it abruptly breaks off.

 

Lajkonik

Every year, 8 days after Corpus Christi, a colourful parade takes place along the streets of Krakow, led by Lajkonik. A fairytale figure in traditional Tatar dress, beautifully embroidered, "perched" on a little wooden horse, the figure dances, jumps and parades through the streets of Krakow for six hours. He pops into cafes and bars on the way, collecting donations and hitting people with his mace, said to bring good luck. He finishes on the Main Square where he is symbolically greeted by the Mayor and the many onlookers and tourists. This event is also based on Tatar legend, according to which, the headman of the local raftsmen rode triumphantly into town in the clothes of the Tatar Khan he had just defeated. Miniature figures of the Lajkonik are available in shop around the Main Square.

 

Szopki

Krakow's szopki are beautifully crafted models (ranging from matchbox-size up to 2 metres) based on both the nativity scene and the architecture of Krakow. A competition is held in December every year for the most beautiful szopka, entered by many applicants, both professionals and students of this unique art. They are minutely detailed, extremely decorative, colourful and often have moving/flashing elements, all created from wood, cardboard, paper etc. They are most often inspired by the facade of St. Mary's Church, the Florian Gate, the Barbakan and Wawel. Figures included are the most important characters in Polish history, the current favourite of course being the Pope John Paul II. The figures are collected at the foot of the Adam Mickiewicz statue on the Main Square and judged on the first Sunday of December. They are later on permanent exhibition at Rynek Główny, 35.

 

Wianki

This festival takes place on the shortest night of the year (23/24th June). Young girls make wreaths of flowers and with a lighted candle in the middle, release them onto the Vistula. Their future is then read from the behaviour of the flame. The festival dates back to Pagan times and today serves as an occasion to organise folk festivals with music, concerts and fireworks.

 

Juwenalia (student festival)

In May each year, one of the biggest festivals is held, where the key to Krakow is symbolically handed over to students for three days. For these three days, an anarchic mood reigns the streets. Strange artists and unruly young people appear on the streets on mobile stages performing improvised theatre art and many concerts are held. Those selling beer and vodka make the most profit out of this holiday, while the town tries to accomodate to its naughty fellow students...

 

The Wawel Tapestries

The Wawel collection is made up of 143 tapestries ordered by the King from Flanders in the 16th c. These tapestries were made by most prominent talents of their trade and make up, without a doubt, the most beautiful treasure of the Royal Chambers. The collection is composed of three series. The first presents Bible stories, the story of paradise; Noah's Ark and the building of the Babel Tower. The second series is based on landscapes and the third concentrates on the grotesque. Some of the tapestries are as large as 45m^(2). This collection is the third of its kind in Europe and is worthwhile seeing.

 

Kopce (artificial mounds)

There are several artificial mounds built around Krakow, the oldest of which has stood for 6 centuries, originally built as a pagan resting-place. The newest is still being built and is to be devoted to the Pope. The best known is the Kościuszko mound, visible from Wawel Hill. This form of monument comes from the pagan tradition of raising mounds. Permission was granted to build the Kościuszko mound in 1820, and has since served as a memorial of the first Polish folk uprising led by Tadeusz Kościuszko. It is a favourite destination for Sunday walks among the Krakow population. After a gentle climb to the top, you get a wonderful panoramic view of Krakow and the surroundings. Another of these mounds was raised in honour of Józef Piłsudski ( Poland`s national hero).

 

Smok Wawelski ( The Wawel Dragon)

In a cave by the river on Wawel Hill, there once lived a dragon who had a nasty habit of eating one young girl a day. In the end of the story, the founder of the town - Krak, manages to kill the dragon by baiting it with a sulphur-filled sheep. Trying to quench its thirst, the dragon drank the water of the Vistula and exploded to the joy of Krakow's people. Its residence in a limestone cave on the side of the Vistula River can now be visited risk-free. At the exit there is a large sculpture of the dragon which in warm months breathes fire (known as the biggest lighter in Poland).

 

Gargoyles

These stylised Renaissance forms of human heads and animals decorate the tops of Cracow's houses. The most well known are those which decorate the top of the Cloth Hall. They are still used as motives on new houses now. This architectural symbol represented the town as the European Cultural Capital of 2000, although this was not approved of by Krakow's residents.

 

Chakra (Magic Stone)

Visitors of Wawel castle are often surprised to see a group of people leaning against one of the walls in the north corner. They don't seem to be doing anything in particular; they're not moving or indeed waiting for anyone. Strangely for Wawel, they are not tourists either. They are standing in a place where there is said to be particular positive healing energy. Scientists themselves claim that there are particularly strong magnetic fields here, but it's a question of faith. The people of Cracow have no trouble in believing it though.

 

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