Krakow

Hercules' Club

  Ojców National Park, near Pieskowa Skała     more than a year ago
While it seems almost all the notable sights of Ojców National Park have some sort of legend attached to them – from the love-at-first-sight afflicting waters of the heart-shaped Spring of Love (Żródło Miłości) to the maidens trapped in the rocks at Panieńskie Skały – the enormous limestone edifice known as Hercules’ Club (Maczuga Herkulesa) is particularly well-endowed with three. The first involves Kraków’s mythical founder Krakus and a revision of his well-known vanquishing of the Wawel Dragon. While the common, club-less version of the tale involves his tricking the dragon into devouring a sheep-skinned sack of sulphur (thus causing the poor dragon to internally combust), the Ojców-inclusive version claims he became so infuriated with the dragon breakfasting on local unwed maidens that he snatched an enormous club and bashed the dragon’s head in with it, thus ending the beast’s reign of terror. Pleased with his work, Krakus (who must have been quite a physical specimen) then placed the club at the mouth of the Prądnik Valley to serve as a warning to anyone who would dare approach his city with ill intentions. While not as well-accepted as the suddenly more feasible-seeming tale of the dragon and the sulphur bomb, this version of the yarn was famously put to the canvas by W. Chomicz in a painting which can be seen on display in Kraków’s Historical Museum.

Another legend tells of the injured peasant who was unjustly imprisoned in the tower of Pieskowa Skała for failing to fulfil his feudal service after a plough crippled his leg. Begging for his freedom, the watch-keepers had a bit of fun at his expense saying they would free the captive if he could accomplish the impossible task of bringing them a falcon nestling. Resigned to his fate, the tormented prisoner was awoken one night when a dozen falcons flew through the tower window carrying him in their claws to the top of Hercules’ Club where he was able to snatch a nestling before they returned him to his cell. In the morning the guards were so stupefied that they released him...

And finally, Kraków’s famous Faustian Pan Twardowski gets in on the mythologising with an amendment to the well-known story of his undoing at the hands of the Devil. Having sold his soul to the Prince of Darkness in exchange for great knowledge and magical powers, the sorcerer thought he had outsmarted the Devil by putting in a clause that his soul could only be collected if he went to Rome. Keeping far afield of Italy, the Devil was still able to catch up with Twardowski when he tricked him into visiting an inn named ‘Rome’. Seeing that the jig was up, Twardowski tried one more revision of the deal claiming he would only let the Devil take his soul to Hell if he first took the rock from the peak of the mountain near Sucha Beskidzka and planted it upside down at Ojców. The Devil had no trouble dispatching the task and soon he and Twardowski were off en route to the Underworld, leaving behind them a tourist attraction to be enjoyed by generations to come. While each is lightly entertaining in its own right, readers will notice that none of these three diverse yarns include Hercules, or explain why Ojców’s famous landmark is known as ‘Hercules’ Club.’ That, dear readers, is a tale yet waiting to be told...
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