Lajkonik of Krakow

Krakow is by many the most beautiful city in Poland. This city in the south of the country has a population of 756,183 (2010). It is located on the Vistula river in the Lesser Poland region. One of the main symbols of Krakow is the Lajkonik.

map of Poland
map of Poland

Who is the Lajkonik? The Lajkonik is a bearded man. He is wearing a special pointed hat and the ancient Mongolian clothes. He rides a white wooden horse.

Lajkonik
Lajkonik of Krakow

He is the main character of the festival named after him. The festival is organized on the first Thursday after the Christian holiday of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi is a movable feast. That is why the Lajkonik festival is each year held on different date. In 2014 it is held on the 26th of June.

Nobody knows for sure what is the origin of this festival. Still there was a belief in pre-Christian Poland that in the spring the horse brings good luck and rich harvest.

The second story takes us to the 13th century Krakow. The city was attacked by the Mongolian army led by Tatar Khan. Citizens defeated his army and killed him. Some defenders took his clothes and rode triumphantly into Krakow.

Yes, there is the third story. In 1287 the Tatars arrived close to Krakow and camped along the Vistula river which was then the village of Zwierzyniec (today district of Krakow). They fell asleep.

Some local people who had been transporting wood on the river attacked them. They defeated the Tatars. They decided to have fun and scare the citizens of Krakow. They dressed themselves as Tatars and entered the city. But they were soon discovered. Citizens used everything to create a festival.

During the festival Lajkonik "rides" from the Premonstratensian (Norbertine) Convent in Zwierzyniec district through the street of Kościuszki, Zwierzyniecka, Franciszkańska and Grodzka to the Main Market Square (Rynek główny).

Main Market Square in Krakow
Main Market Square in Krakow

Some people wearing traditional clothes of the region accompany him. There are also people who wear oriental style clothing. They hold horsetail insignia in their hands. Musicians called the "Mlaskoty" playing drums, flute bugle, clarinet, fiddle, and double-bass, children and many other people are also included in the procession.

Mlaskoty
Mlaskoty

The Lajkonik has a mission to accomplish. He touches people in the audience with his golden mace and collects money for the traditional ransom. There is a belief that a touch of the mace brings good luck. He also collects the ransom money from the restaurants, shops and offices he sees along the way.

The procession lasts 2-3 hours. The procession arrives at the Market Square at about 6.00 pm. There the Lajkonik meets the mayor of Krakow. The Lajkonik brings the ransom money and a chalice with which they make a toast to the bright future of Krakow and its citizens.

The party continues in front of the Old Tower Hall at the Main Square. Everything finishes with a dinner at Hawełka restaurant.

The whole costume of Lajkonik weighs about 30 kg. The costume worn by the Lajkonik today was designed in 1997 by Krystyna Zachwatowicz. The costumes of Lajkonik and other characters in the procession can be seen in the museum of city history.