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.
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Death of princess Wanda by Maksymilian Piotrowski, 1859. ( Public Domain )
Mounds in the Celtic culture had an important cult and astronomical significance, much like their distant (and possibly older) counterparts Stonehenge and Newgrange. It is noted that the azimuth connecting the Krakus and Wanda mounds corresponds to the rising of the sun on May 1st.
In addition, if you stand on the Krakus mound on May 2 and August 10, then the sunrise will be above the Wanda mound and, conversely, if you stand on the Wanda Hill November 4 or February 2, then the sunshine will be over the mound Krakus. It is believed that on these days, Celtic pagan holidays Samayn, Imbolc, Beltein, and Lugansad were held. Professor Vladislav Gural does not deny the hypothesis that the mound is used by Celts for astronomical observations. These hypotheses suggest that the mound was created at the turn of the 2nd and 1st century BC.
Wanda Mound. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
A Legacy of the Vandals
Some researchers point to the similarity of the mound with artificial mounds in Scandinavia, assuming its Scandinavian origin. This view takes into account the proven presence of vandals in the territory of today's Malopolska Voivodship in the 4th century.
Vandals. Modern reconstruction. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
A Leading Monument
Whatever its origins are eventually concluded to be, the Krakus Mound is a national, cultural pride of Poland. An indication of this is that in the 19th and 20th centuries two more mounds were erected both due to and in honor of it. These are firstly, Kostuški Mound, built in 1813-20 on the top of the Mount Sikorsky in honor of the national hero and the defender of independence of Poland, Tadeusz Kostyushko (1746 - 1817). Later, between 1934 and 1937, another burial mound was built nearby, in honor of Marshal Józef Pilsudski (1867-1935), the leader of the restored Polish state.
Mound Krakus in winter. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
In the second half of the 20th century, the mound became another tourist center of the ancient Polish city of Krakow. The tourist footfall caused the need in 2013 for the mound to be repaired. The wild trails were removed, the top reinforced and a fence was made.
The mound is often visited by tourists from Israel, because it shows quarries in which Jews from the Krakow ghetto worked during the Second World War. It is also associated with the Polish folk custom Renkawka, which is held on the Tuesday after Easter.
View of Krakow from the mound. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Top image: Krakow mound. ( Jennifer Boyer / flickr )
By Ingvar Nord
Buko Andrzej, Lesser and Greater Poland during 9th–10th centuries in the perspective of archaeological research. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/35291398/Ma%C5%82opolska_i_Wielkopolska_IX_X_wieku_w_perspektywie_bada%C5%84_archeologicznych_Lesser_and_Greater_Poland_during_9th_10th_centuries_in_the_perspective_of_archaeological_research_ (in Polish)
Anna Tyniec, Krakus Mound in the light of Archaeological Studies of the 20 th Century. Available at:
http://podgorze.pl/kopiec-kraka-w-swietle-badan-archeologicznych-xx-wieku/ (in Polish)
Gabriela Szmielik-Mazur. Krakus Mound. – Available at:
http://podgorze.pl/kopiec-krakusa/ (in Polish)
Marek Florek, Issues concerning the existence and functions of the so-called great kurgans in Małopolska in early phases of the Early Middle Ages. Available at: http://web.archive.org/web/20131214082954/http://www.archeologia.univ.rzeszow.pl/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Analecta_3/09_Florek.pdf
Polish Mounds - God's Sanctuaries - Krak Mound (Swaroga and Chorsa). – Available at: https://bialczynski.pl/2009/07/29/kopce-polskie-sanktuaria-bogow-kopiec-kraka-swaroga-i-chorsa/ (in Polish)
So I know the mistake since I was in Cracow and Wroclaw. Thank you for mentioning. Hope the editorial will fix it.
Thank you for writing about these magnificent structures. One correction though: the "Wroclaw Castle of Wroclaw" seems to have made its way into the article by accident, since Wrocław is a completely different city in Western Poland, quite far away from Kraków where the mounds are located. If anything, you probably meant Wawel Castle (which was the seat of kings in Kraków, situated on Wawel Hill)