The Legend of Lajkonik

Why is Lajkonik jumping around the Main Square in Krakow?

Lajkonik parade (2019) by Robert SłuszniakKBF - Krakow Festival Office

Once a year, on the first Thursday after the Feast of Corpus Christi, Lajkonik appears in the market square of Krakow–a man, dressed in an oriental outfit, seemingly sitting on a dummy horse that is actually attached to his waist.  

According to legend, the character of Lajkonik refers to the Tatar invasion of Poland in the 13th century.

Krakow (2022) by Michał SiarekInternational Cultural Centre

During the procession of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the town's population was informed that a Tatar army was just outside Kraków, wreaking havoc and pillaging the outskirts of Zwierzyniec. In response, raftsmen who transported timber by rafts down the Vistula went to fight the attackers.

Lajkonik parade (2019) by Robert SłuszniakKBF - Krakow Festival Office

As the legend goes, the bravest of them returned to the town on horseback, donning Tatar clothes.

Lajkonik with his Entourage outside an Inn on Zwierzyniecka Street in Kraków (1898) by Walery Eljasz-Radzikowski The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

How did the tradition of Lajkonik evolve?

 At first, this was a pastime of Kraków raftsmen who took part in the procession of the Feast of Corpus Christi while wearing exotic outfits. 

However, due to the importance of that religious holiday, in 1787 Bishop Józef Olechowski forbade the Lajkonik suite to participate in the ceremony. Since then, it has become a separate ritual. 

Main Square in Krakow (2022) by Michał SiarekInternational Cultural Centre

Lajkonik route

In line with the tradition, Lajkonik follows a route from Zwierzyniec to the Main Square of Kraków.

Nowadays, it runs from the yard of the Kraków Water Supply at Senatorska street, through the Na Stawach square, to the Norbertines monastery. Then further along Kościuszki, Zwierzyniecka, Franciszkańska, and Grodzka streets, all the way to the Main Square.

Lajkonik (the Hobby-Horse of Krakow) Lajkonik (the Hobby-Horse of Krakow) (the 1920s) by Józefa Kogut (autor of paintings) Warsztaty Krakowskie [Manufacturer] The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Lajkonik's outfit   

Lajkonik's outfit changed throughout the years. 

Until the end of the 19th century, the suite members wore random clothes. The outfit used these days is a copy of the apparel designed by Stanisław Wyspiański in 1904. 

Lajkonik (2022)International Cultural Centre

The original clothing weighed just over 88 pounds (40 kg). It includes a Turkish kaftan with loose sleeves, a red long robe, boots, and trousers made of red linen.

On his head, Lajkonik wears an embellished turban, crowned with a crescent moon symbol, and embedded in beads.

By his side, he carries a short, curved Turkish saber with an embroidered grip. In his hand, Lajkonik holds a baton he uses to jokingly strike passers by. 

The dummy horse is covered with a saddlecloth–the so-called "shabrack"–with Oriental decorations, sewn-in pearls and corals, and decorative gold crescent moons. His neck is covered with a breast plate with golden discs, and his head is adorned with an ostrich plume.

The Lajkonik procession is related to various additional rituals, such as a ceremonial dance, a tribute collected from merchants met along the way, a toast to the good fortune of the city, or a dinner at the Hawełka restaurant.

Lajkonik parade (2019) by Robert SłuszniakKBF - Krakow Festival Office

This event in Kraków attracts thousands of people every year, and Lajkonik has become one of the most prominent symbols of Kraków.

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