Some of you may have visited the Smocza Jama (Dragon’s Den) underneath Wawel Castle in Kraków. It’s a natural limestone cave made famous by the legend of the Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski), who supposedly lived there centuries ago.
Today, children and entire families visit this Polish attraction. I remember going there as a kid myself and imagining the dragon climbing up the cave’s wall. What I didn’t know then, and what many people don’t know now, is that the Smocza Jama has a much darker side to it.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, the cave began functioning as a sort of pub, but it quickly deteriorated into what Obi Wan Kenobi would surely have called “a wretched hive of scum and villainy.” The Dragon’s Den became a sort of underworld, inhabited by vagabonds, thieves and prostitutes. It became the type of place one avoided for fear of getting mugged, violated, or worse.
Experts believe that what is today one cave, was once a series of caves, and the largest had become a giant brothel. A visiting Hungarian traveler wrote, “I don’t believe you could have found as much debauchery in Sodom and Gomorrah as you can here.” It’s even believed that Polish kings like Henry Valois frequented this brothel in disguise, and it became a well-known place of “ill repute” around Poland and even Europe.
By the 18th century, the public had grown tired of the shrieks and drunken banter emanating from inside those carnal caves, so the king decided to fill most of them up, chasing the lecherous inhabitants out for good. As a result, today only one cave remains—the one that is believed to have been the den of iniquity.
Years, decades and centuries passed. In 1974, the cave was opened as the tourist attraction it is today. Most visitors today believe that the darkest thing to have inhabited that cave was a fire-breathing dragon. If only that were true.