Mounds of Krakus and Wanda: Earthen Mausolea of Legendary Polish Aristocracy?
On a visit to Krakow there are some remarkable earthworks to behold. Of the four that exist, two are fairly modern, being built in the 19 th and 20 th centuries. The other two have much more age to them, but as yet there is no agreement as to what this might be. Arguments range from 500 BC to the Middle Ages. The mystery of the origins of the Krakus Mound and what might be its purpose abound.
Structure of Krakus Hill
Krakus Hill or Krakus Mound is an artificial hill, a mound located in the Krakow Administrative Region of Malopolska Voivodship, Poland, on the right bank of the Vistula. The mound is located at an altitude of 271 meters (890 ft) above sea level, 2400 meters (7874 ft) from the the Wawel Castle in Krakow. Its height is 16 meters (52.5 ft) and the diameter of the base is 60 meters (197 ft).
Mound of Krakus. Source: WiWok CC BY-SA 3.0
The internal structure of the mound is based on a high post with wicker panels attached to it in a radial pattern. In the space between the sections, compacted earth and stones were poured. This design provides stability and durability throughout the structure. In the 19th century, the mound was included in the system of Austrian fortifications, surrounded by the embankment of the earth, the wall, and the ditch, and the stone houses were erected inside the walls.
Excavations and dating of the mound
According to the medieval chronicler of Krakow, Jan Dlugos (1415 - 1480), the mound was erected in honor of the legendary first ruler of Krakow, namely Krakus who ruled sometime during 6th - 7th centuries. During the inter-war period, extensive archaeological research was carried out to try to date the mound and check whether there is truth in the legend that Krakus was buried beneath it.
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Excavations of the Krakow mound in 1933. (Public Domain )
In 1933, the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences established the Committee for the Study of the Krakow Mound, which included representatives of the humanities, natural sciences, and engineering sciences. During 1934-37 the archaeologist Juzef Zhurovsky and engineer Francishek Yakubik conducted a study of the monument in the hope of discovering more about it and perhaps revealing its true beginnings.
Contents of the Mound
The researchers found traces of a settlement from the periods of the Stone Age and Early Iron Age, which is the end of the Lusatian culture (1300-400 BC). Also in the mound was found a bronze belt from the 8th century; the remains of a 300-year-old oak, which according to Professor Wladyslaw Shafer was destroyed by Christians in the 9th century as a result of paganism; a children's skeleton; an avant-garde bronze artifact, indicating that the mound could have been erected for the Avar leader or local leader who resisted the Avars; and the silver dinar of the reign of Czech Prince Boleslav II (AD 920-999).
Baptism of Poland in 965. Artist Yain Mateyko, 1889. ( Public Domain )
Despite these excavations, historians and scholars have not been able to establish the foundation of the mound and so there remain several theories of its origin. The earliest estimation is based on the findings of the Lusatian culture and dates the mound back to 500 BC.
Resting Place of Noblility
On the basis of the artifacts found during the Slavic period and the legends of Prince Krakus, the monument is dated from the 6 th – 10 th century.
Professor Leszek Pavel Slupetskii suggests that the Krakus Hill is an ancient burial place for noblemen and represents only a small part of the cemetery, the rest of which has not been preserved. As proof, Leszek Pavel Slupetskij offers the Krakow plan, created by the Swedes in 1702 and the Austrian map of 1792, where, besides the modern hill of Krakow, there are other, smaller, hills. A representative of the Krakow Archaeological Museum, Kazimierz Radwansky, concurs with this hypothesis, arguing that at the end of the 8 th century there were about 45 hills there that have not survived to this day.
Krakus. Walery Eljasz-Radzikowski (1841–1905) . ( Public Domain )
The Celts and Princess Wanda
There is a third hypothesis that involves the participation of the Celts in the construction of the burial mounds Krakus and Wanda, named after the princess Wanda (or Vandi), daughter of Prince Krakus, who according to legend is buried in it. Princess Wanda was a legendary heroine, who laid down her life by throwing herself in the Vistula River for the good of Poland.