Tagged: cave

Lesser Known Dragon Hotspots of Europe

© The J R R Tolkein Copyright Trust 1937, 1966

Everyone loves a dragon. I think there was a time in my childhood when I thought they were real. Just very, very rare. That’s right – they used to hang around with the unicorns. Oh, how my literally ‘fantastic’ world was shattered when I was told, rather aggressively, that they didn’t exist (that conversation might have taken place last week).

But, did they exist? Were they simply very big eels with bad breath which existed in the middle-ages – eels that someone told a bit of a stretcher about down the local tavern to his drunken mates to show off? “Yeah, slayed a dragon down near Black Pond yesterday. Fierce brute. Fiery breath. Nearly did for me”. And the reality? Some fat bloke in armour wrestling an eel in some grass. Perhaps we’ll never know. Anyway, here are some of the dragon hotspots of Europe, where the mythology is strongest.

The Wawel Dragon, Krakow, Poland

A 16th century drawing of ‘Smok Wawelski’ (The Wawel Dragon) in its cave in the rock – on which Warsaw Castle now sits

On Wawel Hill, in Krakow, Poland, is a huge hill with Warsaw Castle perched on top. The medieval city of Krakow – and Poland’s original capital – meanders around beneath it.

Many different stories exist. This is just one of them. When that place ‘was all just fields’, stories would be told to wide-eyed children of a fearful beast which dwelled in an overgrown cave somewhere in the rock. The creature was known to carry off a sheep or two here or there, perhaps a man or a child on occasion. It had to stop. Yet no-one was a match for this ferocious monster. Until a shoemaker called ‘Krakus’ had a pop at it. He basically fed the dragon a poisoned sheep. Once the slithery character had been killed, the locals made Krakus king. They built him a castle and renamed the area Krakow in his honour.

A small statue of him and the dragon can be see on Sienna Street, Krakow. A collection of huge bones, suspended above the entrance of the castle are said to be the bones of the dragon.

Nowadays, beneath the citadel, you can see a statue of the beast outside of the cave supposed to have been its lair. It breathes fire every few minutes (thanks to some natural gas and a nozzle in its mouth).

What’s more, you can even make it breathe fire by sending an SMS with the word ‘SMOK’ to number 7168.

See the location on TravPad here.

The Sockburn Worm, Durham, England

A heady image of the Sockburn Worm (‘Worm’ is local dialect for Dragon) and the knight who slayed it, Sir John Conyers

In the most southern part of County Durham, there’s a curious loop in the River Tees – at this point, it seems Durham is bulging as far south as it can – like an inflating balloon – into the southern neighbouring county of what used to be part of Yorkshire.

‘The Sockburn Loop’ with Sockburn Hall at the top right, within the loop, and on the site of the earlier Norman hall

This area is ancient. The ‘loop’ which has been formed in the river, encircles an area of land which is only entered by land at the ‘neck’ of this loop. This entrance to the wider territory is small – less than a quarter of a mile across. The current owners of the hall are restoring it and do not seem to encourage tourism. This just makes the area more enigmatic.

Sockburn was an area ravaged by a “…worm, dragon or fiery flying serpent…”. This story was said to have inspired Lewis Carroll (who grew up at the nearby village of Croft) to write his ‘Jabberwocky’.Although the details of the scrap between the knight Conyers and the unlucky beast are scant, the remnants of what is supposedly a myth are suspiciously rich and numerous. The spring where the dragon used to bathe is still there and visible.

The Spring in which the Dragon used to bathe

The ‘Grey Stone’ beneath which lie the remains of the beast is still also partially visible. There is an effigy of Sir John Conyers in the ruined and ancient church there, with the dragon wrapped around his feet, as it must have been for centuries.

The Conyer’s Falchion, Durham Cathedral Treasury

The extremely rare Conyer’s Falchion (a type of old sword and the best surviving example of its type in the world), used to actually slay the dragon, still exists and can be seen in Durham Cathedral treasury (see location on the TravPad map).

Read more about this fascinating area on TravPad here.

The Dragon’s Well, Brinsop, England

The Dragon’s Well

Given the actual importance of what is said to have happened here, the fact that most English folk haven’t even heard of this place is staggering. Even I hadn’t heard about it until a few months ago.

For the tiny village of Brinsop was the location of the epic battle between a knight called St George and a now quite-well known dragon. The knight has become the patron saint of England. The dragon could only hit ‘A-List’ historical/cultural-celebrity-status by being killed.

St George, in stained glass, St George’s Church, Brinsop

Like the Sockburn beast, this dragon based itself near a water-source in a grassy meadow in the village. Plainly, the villagers didn’t like it roaring around, breathing on everything, burning their crops and eating their sheep. And their relatives. George was called in. And he slew it. And that’s a very long story, told in a very tiny nutshell. The stone shown above, buried in a meadow just south of the small churchyard of – yes, you guessed it, St George’s Church – marks the spot where the creature was said to have been killed. See the location on TravPad here.

The Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Dragon on Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia

The reason the bridge has dragons on it is simply because the Greek hero Jason (and his sword-happy argonauts) supposedly killed a dragon not too far from the city.

Fresh from relieving the Colchians of their golden fleece (and reportedly killing a dragon which had been guarding it), Jason legged it, only to be pursued by a huge army. In an attempt to give them the slip, he took a turning up the River Danube, on up the River Sava and eventually up the River Ljubljanica almost to its source. They took the boat to bits, marched it across to the Adriatic and carried on their way. Somewhere between Ljubljana and Vrhnika these cheeky mythological chappies encountered a marsh. Guess what was living in the marsh? Yes, a dragon. Having battled a substantial number of monsters already, this wee swamp-beastie was dispatched without breaking into a sweat.

It is now immortalised by one of the dragons on the bridge.

If you have any dragon related spots, please either tweet them to us, send us a comment on this blog, or place them directly on the TravPad map!

Ever Been Told to “Go To Hell”?

You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Well you can’t go. You can stare into it, but you can’t go. But you can go to ‘Heaven’.

The accessible entrance to ‘Heaven’, ringed in red

For these are the names of two dramatic caves on the southern Turkish coast reached by a winding mountain road from the town of Narlikuyu. In Turkish, they are named ‘Cennet Çökügü’, or simply Cennet (‘Heaven’) and Cehennem Çukuru, or Cehennem (‘Hell’). They are interesting for those who like geography (particularly caves) and also those who like mythology. The mythology of these two places are fascinating.

Heaven involves a descent into a valley, or a pit. Down over 400 steps, the air gets colder and everything seems still, the cavern opens out in front of you. Birdsong bounces off the walls of the valley, giving a slightly disorientating feeling. Keep an eye open for the hundreds of pieces of cloth which have been tied to the tree branches – visitors exhibiting religious ritual. Continuing the walk over to this enormous wound in the rock makes you feel very small indeed. The valley is over 100 metres wide and almost 100 metres deep. The mouth of the cave yawns in front of you. The big shock is when you see what’s in the cave though.

A Byzantine Chapel poking its nose into everyone’s business

Yes, that’s right, it’s a 5th century Byzantine Chapel – you really can’t move for them these days. It’s called the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, and we’ll see how that came to be there, later.

Heading past the chapel you go further into the cave. A table and chairs have been rigged up to provide somewhere for a bit of a rest. Not at the top – at the bottom.

It’s not possible to go right to the very end of the cave, as last reports indicate that it was blocked off by a barrier. But beyond this barrier is a free running underground stream (videos of this underground water source can be found online). In winter, when there’s more water running here, the stream can be heard as quite a distinctive roar apparently. It was this noise which convinced ancient peoples who visited the cave, that within the depths of this dank place, lived a monster (see the note on ‘Typhon’ below). The chapel mentioned above was so placed to try to neutralise and defend against the threat posed by this monster.

The viewing platform, hanging over the entrance to Hell

Going back up, into the burning sunlight, thoughts turn to ‘Hell’. Wandering over and away from Heaven, this cave is a massive sinkhole. The floor of the cave is inaccessible. The bottom of this huge chasm, or pit, is some 130 metres straight down. Apparently, there was, at one time, a steel ladder which led to the bottom of this pit, but there were no signs of this. The best view you can now get is from a steel viewing platform which is positionedslightly beyond the lip of the chasm, and overhanging the drop. Not for the faint hearted.

The sides of Cehennem look scorched. This is where the mythology comes in. The King of the Gods Zeus, was said to have battled Typhon, ‘The Father of All Monsters’ – a creature with over 100 serpent heads. Getting the upper hand on this slippery devil, Zeus threw Tyhpon into Cehennem, where the beast remained imprisoned. The scorch-marks are said to have been caused by Typhon’s fiery breath, in its rage, unable to escape.

Epic battle between Zeus and Typhon

So, as you can see, in this case it really is easier to get into ‘Heaven’ than it is to get into Hell.

See a video, said to be of the stream in the depths of Cennet HERE

See where this place is on a map over at TRAVPAD