The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Twelve: Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle rises above Krakow, Poland, the symbol of Polish national identity for centuries. Nestled in a bend of the Vistula River, it sits proudly atop Wawel Hill.

The castle was built by King Casimir III the Great, who ruled Poland from 1333 to 1370. It was in the early 16th century that the castle became a symbol of the political and cultural heart of Poland. King Sigisimund the Old and his queen renovated the 200-year-old castle into a splendid Renaissance palace. The monarchs hired native and foreign craftsmen to decorate the castle, turning it into a showplace for the talents of Italian, German, and Polish artists.

But Wawel Castle, as beautiful as it is, is not the only area attraction. The Dragon’s Den is a cave in the western slope of Wawel Hill. The cave’s evocative name comes from the legend that a dragon once terrorized the countryside from that cavern. The monster stole livestock and rampaged through towns, leaving a dragon-sized path of destruction behind it.

A local shoemaker had a brilliant idea — he left several sheep, gutted and stuffed with sulfur, in a field. The dragon swooped down and devoured the sheep. As soon as it started to digest the meal, the sulfur hit the dragon’s fiery innards. The dragon, who had been napping in the cave after its meal of mutton, crawled out with a massive tummyache. Deathly ill, it dragged itself down to the Vistula River and guzzled gallons of water. The drenching did no good — shortly afterwards, the dragon exploded. The shoemaker was rewarded for his ingenuity; he married the princess and became the prince of Wawel Castle.

Every Christmas Eve, all the ancient kings of Poland gather in the vault under the castle. In Krakow, when the bell of the cathedral tolls midnight, the ringing wakes a pair of enchanted knights. The knights leave the cave where they’ve been sleeping all year, and ride to Wawel Castle. They knock at the door of the chamber underneath the castle, and rouse King Boleslas the Brave. He takes his throne once more, and presides over the yearly council of Poland’s long-departed monarchs.

While you’re out and about in Electronland, take a trip over to www.weirddarkness.com . If you’ve enjoyed Darren Marlar’s Weird Darkness podcast, why not consider subscribing? That way you’ll get a constant supply of weird tales.

I wish you all a very happy and peaceful holiday season. Hug your loved ones and snuggle your pets, have something delicious to eat, wear comfy socks, be excellent to each other, support small businesses, stay warm, and stay spooky.

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