In Poland, city of Cracow has a dragon while Warsaw has a basilisk. You can find a restaurant, patisserie, bar etc. called Bazyliszek as well as pictures of the monster on walls of some Warsaw houses and in gift shops, on T-shirts. In common language we also use the phrase "wzrok bazyliszka", the basilisk's glance which means a glance which kills.
The name basilisk comes from the Greek basileus, which means king. The basilisk was the King of the snakes and the most poisonous creature on earth. His appearance has always been a matter of dispute since there is no way to see a basilisk and survive. Looking at it, according to legend, brings death.
The basilisk was depicted in a few illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages but appeared much more often as an ornamental detail in church architecture, adorning capitals and medallions. The best representation of the basilisk is found in the decorative field of heraldry where the basilisk had the head and legs of a cock, a snake-like tail, and a body like a bird’s. It seems that the wings could be depicted as either being covered with feathers or scales.
The antique Romans called him "regulus" or little king, not only because of his crown, but because he terrorized all other creatures with his deadly look and poison. His colour was yellow, sometimes with a kind of blackish hue. Plinius mentioned a white spot on his head, which could be misinterpreted as a diadem or a crown. Others speak of three spikes on his forehead.
Regarding his dangerousness, rural legends distinguish three main types. All three had a deadly breath, which could even make rocks crumble.
– The golden basilisk poisoned everything by his mere look.
– The evil-eye basilisk terrorized and killed every creature by his third eye on the top of a golden head.
– The sanguineness basilisk sting made the flesh fall off the bones of his victim
According to some legends, basilisks can be killed by hearing the crow or a rooster or gazing at itself in a mirror. The latter method of killing the beast is featured in the legend of the basilisk of Warsaw, killed by a man carrying a set of mirrors. The venomous bite of the basilisk could be cured using basil.
During the Renaissance, Christianity rediscovered the creature in the context of the Old Testament and used it sparsely as an emblem of the devil and sin.
A legend says that in the basements of the buildings located along one side of Dekert, at the corner of Krzywe Koło (Crooked Circle St.), there lives a Basilisk.
It guarded the treasures once stored there, and every man who tried to reach them was killed by the gaze of the Basilisk turning men to stone. He was defeated in the end by a wandering tailor who showed the monster a mirror. The Basilisk was petrified by its own appearance, and hid away; from then on, he was no longer a threat to residents. Today on the façade of the building there is a picture of the Basilisk, which is the symbol of the renowned Warsaw restaurant of the same name.
This story exists much longer than "Harry Potter". We hear it from our grandmothers… or in the school. In Warsaw we have to know a few Warsaw's legends when we're in primary school. It's one of them.
Legend about basilisk
There are big dungeons somewhere deep under Warsaw. They were built as a defence of the city or escape place.
Story tells there live a lot of strange creatures. And one of them was basilisk – big dragon, half rooster and half snake. Ugly and stenchy. People, who walked close to gate of the dungeons, lost without a trace. Creature killed them with its glance.
One day two children from Warsaw: Maciek and his sister Halszka wanted to go to a fair to look at many miracles there. They saw man who ate fire, snake with glasses on its back, a lot of medallions and rings. And mirrors.
– How beautiful mirrors! – screamed Halszka. – Maciek, look! Look at the sun shining on this silver disc! It's amazing! Buy me one, please…
– But Hala, we haven't enough money…
Halszka stopped to please. Looked sadly at the mirrors last time and came to next vendor. Maciek thought a minute. Then bought one of these mirrors – smallest, but most beautiful of all of them. He spent all of his money for it, but when he gave it to Halszka and saw her happiness, he thought it was worth to buy it.
Children strolled about the fair a few hours. When they saw all of things, which vendors were selling, they thought to walk through small Warsaw streets. They saw beautiful tenement houses: pink with sailing ships on the door; blue with leaves around windows… and one red with dragon on old door.
It looked like lonely old house, abandoned for decades. The door was open a little, so Maciek got in there. It was dark there, so he took the mirror from his sister and tried to make some light with it. And suddenly he looked at some ugly creature, who ran away to dungeon deep in the house. It had chicken head, long snake neck, balloon-like body with black feathers and high legs with claws sharp like knives.
Maciek – very scared – ran away with his sister. They stopped just in their house, where they were safe. Halszka kept on asking him all the time what he saw, what scared him so much, but he didn't tell her. He only thought all the night about this strange creature. He heard about dragons having a lot of gold in their nests. They loved to collect money and jewellery. And his family sometimes did not have enough food, so dragon's treasure would help them to live. So – what to do with this basilisk…?
He thought all the night, then day and another night. And at last he knew what he should do! He took Halszka's mirror and got to dungeons in Red Dragon tenement house.
He walked through the tunnels so long and long, that he thought they had no end. He looked only to his mirror, not to meet basilisk's eyes.
Finally he found dragon's treasure. Gold shining its own light, jewellery with red and green stones, a lot of money…
And the dragon. It slept, but when he heard Maciek, he moved. Boy closed his eyes and turned the mirror silver side to eyes of the creature. When basilisk opened them, he saw himself. Screamed like cracking Earth and dropped dead.
From this moment family of Maciek and Halszka was rich and never hungry. And Warsaw was free from any dragons.
Spotkanie z Bazyliszkiem
Note that the music was composed by Krzysztof Penderecki, worldwide famous Polish composer