The Four Mounds of Krakow are a bit off the beaten track, but well-worth the visit for their stunning views and unusual features. There’s a fascinating story behind each one, as Cracovians were partial to raising man-made hills to honour important people from Polish legends and history. Read on to learn more about them.
Boasting incredible views over Krakow, Krakus Mound is the oldest of the city’s mounds. It’s shrouded in legend and mystery, and no one is quite sure when it was built, although most archaeologists estimate that it was around the 8th century. The mound is named after the legendary King Krakus, who is said to have founded the city of Krakow and built Wawel Castle after slaying the ferocious dragon who lived underneath it. There are many versions of this story. In one, Krakus tricked the dragon by feeding it a sheep stuffed with sulfur. The dragon, who had a particular appetite for young women, was left with such a terrible burning sensation, that he drank half the water in the Vistula River and exploded! King Krakus was also credited with defeating the armies of the Roman Empire. Medieval chroniclers insist that he was buried in the Mound, but sadly, whilst some interesting artefacts have been discovered there, his remains are nowhere to be found.
The second of Krakow’s prehistoric mounds, Wanda Mound is unusually located next to the socialist realist city of Nowa Huta. Dating back to between the 6th – 10th century, its origins are mystifying and was likely erected by the Slavs or Celts. If you stand on top of Krakus on May 1, you can see the sun rising directly over Wanda. The mound’s namesake is King Krakus’ ill-fated daughter, Princess Wanda. Like many a mythical maiden, the beautiful princess had to fight off admirers lining up for her hand in marriage. When she refused to marry German Prince Rytygier, the spurned prince threatened to invade the kingdom and take Wanda by force. In response, the princess did the sensible thing and threw herself into the Vistula River, reasoning that this was the only way to prevent a never-ending string of foreign suitors using her rejection of them as an excuse to invade.
In honour of one of Poland’s greatest national heroes, Kościuszko Mound was constructed between 1820 – 1823. It was financed by donations from people all over (occupied) Poland, and many volunteers of all ages and social status helped to erect it. The ultimate freedom-fighter, Tadeusz Kościuszko is celebrated for leading a daring uprising against foreign rule in Poland, and for uniting Poles from all aspects of society – from nobles to peasants – in the fight. He’s also remembered for his courageous feats fighting in the American War of Independence, and struck up such a friendship with Thomas Jefferson that he made the future President the executor of his will. The mound isn’t the only sizeable protuberance to have been named after the military hero – there’s also a Mount Kościuszko in New South Wales, Australia.
At 383m above sea level, the summit of the Piłsudski Mound is the highest point in Krakow, and if you stand at the top of it on a clear day, you can see the Tatra Mountains in the south. The newest and largest of Krakow’s mounds, it was raised between 1934 and 1937 in honour of the great military leader and revolutionary Józef Piłsudski, and was formed, in an act of commemoration, using soil from historic Polish battle sites. Piłsudski is renowned for his role in the reestablishment of an independent Polish state after WWI, following 123 years of foreign rule. Alongside his political opponent, Roman Dmowski, he’s considered the founder of the modern Polish nation. Between 1945 and 1989, the topic of Piłsudski and his achievements were one of the many forbidden by the Communist regime in Poland, and both the Nazis and Communists tried (unsuccessfully) to destroy the Mound.