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Wawel Cathedral

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Southern side of Wawel Cathedral

The Wawel Cathedral is Poland's national sanctuary. It was the coronation site of nearly all Polish monarchs.

The Sigismund's Chapel (Kaplica Zygmuntowska) is one of the most notable examples of architecture in Kraków. Built as a tomb chapel of the last Jagiellons, it was hailed by many historians of art as the most beautiful example of Tuscan renaissance north of the Alps. Financed by king Sigismund I of Poland, the chapel was built between 1519 and 1533 by Bartolomeo Berrecci. A square-based chapel with a golden dome houses the tombs of its founder king Sigismund, as well as king Sigismund Augustus of Poland and Anna Jagiellonka. The design of the internal sculptures, stuccoes and paintings was carried out by some of the most renowned artists of the era, including Santi Gucci, Hermann Vischer, and the architect himself, Georg Pencz.

Wawel Castle

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Renaissance courtyard of Wawel Castle

The Wawel Castle (Zamek wawelski) served as a royal residence and the site where the country's rulers governed Poland for five centuries from 1038 until 1596.

The Wawel Dragon

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Wawel-dragon sculpture by Bronisław Chromy

Smok Wawelski, also known as The Dragon of Wawel Hill or simply The Wawel Dragon, is a famous dragon in Polish folklore. He laired in a cave under the Wawel Hill on the banks of the Vistula river, although some legends place him in the Wawel mountains. In some stories the dragon lived before the founding of the city, when the area was inhabited by farmers.

The Wawel Cathedral features a statue of the Wawel Dragon and a plaque commemorating his defeat by Krakus, a Polish prince who, according to the plaque, founded the city and his palace on the slain dragon's lair. The dragon's cave under the castle is now a popular tourist stop.

A popular version of the Wawel Dragon tale takes place in Kraków during the reign of king Krakus, the city's legendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing people, pillaging their homes and devouring their livestock. In many versions of this story, the dragon especially enjoyed eating young girls, and could only be appeased if the townfolk would leave a young girl in front of his cave once a month. The King certainly wanted to put a stop to that awful situation, but his bravest knights fell to the dragon's fiery breath. In the versions involving the sacrifice of young girls, every girl in the city was eventually sacrificed except one, the King's daughter Wanda. In desperation, the King promised his beautiful daughter's hand in marriage to anybody who could defeat the dragon. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. One day, a poor cobbler's apprentice named Dratewka accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon's cave. The dragon ate it and soon became incredibly thirsty. No amount of water could quell his stomach ache, and after swelling up from drinking half of the Vistula river, he exploded. The apprentice married the King's daughter as promised and they lived happily ever after.

Fragment in Chicago

A column fragment of Wawel Castle has been incorporated into Chicago's landmark Tribune Tower. Located in its own niche over the upper-left corner of the main entrance, it is a visual tribute to Chicago's large Polish populace, the largest such presence outside of the Republic of Poland.

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