Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Although the Tatras rise up away to the south, the Polish city of Kraków is by and large a rather flat place. Yet, within the boundaries of Kraków, there are four distinct artificial mounds, two ancient and two more modern. Duncan JD Smith, author of the new book 'Only in Krakow', explores the mounds of Kraków.

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This month sees the publication of the 12th European city guide in the ever-reliable and hugely stimulating series written by Duncan JD Smith and published under Duncan’s own imprint. ‘Only in Krakow’ is a 232-page cultural expedition through Kraków’s royal heritage which takes in dragons, idols and miracles. Duncan has been a regular contributor to hidden europe and we are pleased to publish this text which is adapted from a section of his new book.

Four great earthen mounds stand in Kraków’s suburbs. Raised by human hands, two of them are ancient and two are modern, conveniently bookending much of Kraków’s history. Locals and visitors have long been drawn to them, eager to scale their summits and to plumb their meaning.

Of Kraków’s two ancient mounds, the best known is Krakus Mound (Kopiec Krakusa) on ul. Franciszka Maryewskiego in the district of Podgórze. Not only is it Kraków’s oldest manmade structure, but the summit of the 16-metrehigh mound is also the highest elevation anywhere in the city.

The mound’s name reflects the traditional belief that it contains the body of Kraków’s mythical founder, the shadowy 12th-century King Krak (or Krakus). Although archaeological work conducted in the 1930s failed to find his grave, it did reveal artefacts dating even further back to the 8th century.

Nowadays historians believe that Krakus Mound was created by members of a Slavic tribe (probably Avars or Vistulans) sometime between the 6th and the 10th centuries, although its purpose remains unclear. The fact that four smaller mounds once stood around its base suggests it was some sort of cult site. The place still retains an ancient and alluring aura especially on the Tuesday after Easter, when locals climb it in celebration of the pagan Rekawka festival. The name, meaning ‘sleeves’, recalls how according to legend the earth used to create the mound was transported to the site in the builders’ sleeves.

This is just an excerpt. The full text of this article is not yet available to members with online access to hidden europe. Of course you can also read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 59.


Having worked for many years in the publishing industry selling other travel writers’ books, Duncan J. D. Smith decided in 2003 to start writing and illustrating his own. As a self-styled ‘Urban Explorer’, travel writer, historian and photographer he has embarked on a lifetime’s adventure, travelling off the beaten track in search of the world’s unique, hidden and unusual locations. He has so far traversed four continents in search of curious places and people, from the wartime bunkers of Berlin and the baroque gardens of Prague to the souks of Damascus and the rock-cut churches of Ethiopia. His European findings are being published in a ground breaking series of guidebooks – the Only In Guides – which have been designed specifically for the purpose. Volumes on Berlin, Boston, Budapest, Cologne, Edinburgh, Hamburg, London, Munich, Paris, Prague, Vienna and Zurich have been published, with Krakow in preparation.

Duncan divides his time between England and Central Europe, and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Find out more about Duncan and his work at www.duncanjdsmith.com and www.onlyinguides.com.

This article was published in hidden europe 59.