Mounds are characteristic small hills, anthropogenic in origin, which have been built in the typical shape of a truncated horn since prehistoric times. They fulfilled a range of functions, mostly defensive and religious, and often served as burial sites. For many of these mounds, however, their original purpose is still unknown. With a total of five mounds within the city limits, Krakow is not only the undisputed Polish champion but also a world leader in this regard. And four of these mounds continue to be very popular attractions for local Cracovians today.
Undoubtedly Krakow’s most famous mound, it was dedicated to the memory of the Polish national hero, Tadeusz Kościuszko, and is located on Blessed Bronisława Hill in the district of Zwierzyniec. Its construction started in 1820 – three years after Kościuszko’s death – and lasted until 1823. During the years 1850-1856, the Austrian invaders built a brick citadel around the mound as part of the city fortifications and it was used as a strategic lookout point. Nowadays, the former fort buildings house the Kościuszko Museum.
At the foot of the mound are decorative gardens containing a special variety of rose named after Kościuszko himself. There are also plans to create an educational route to teach visitors about his life.
Entry to the top of the mound and the exhibitions held there costs 18 PLN (with a student ticket being slightly cheaper at 14 PLN). The exceptions are 4 February – Kościuszko’s birthday, 24 March – the date in 1794 when he made his famous proclamation in the Main Square, and 15 October – the date of his death. On those three days, entry is free. Standing at 34 m high, the mound offers a beautiful panoramic view of Krakow, and on sunny days it’s even possible to see the Tatra Mountains.
The Podgórze district is home to the oldest Krakow mound, named after the legendary ruler and founder of the city, King Krak. The exact date it was built is unknown, but there are many stories surrounding it that are tied to the king’s death. Legend has it that he was laid to rest on a hill and his subjects decided to honour him by spontaneously building a mound, even carrying the soil to construct it in their baggy sleeves (rękawy in Polish) if they had no other means to transport it.
To commemorate this legend, the popular Rękawka festival, which is well known for its chivalric tournament reconstructions, is organised in the city every year, always on the first Tuesday after Easter.
Archaeological research conducted on the mound led to the discovery of numerous interesting objects, including the remains of an oak tree that was over 300 years old when it was cut down. That could indicate that, prior to the Christianisation of Poland, the mound could have been a site where cult rituals took place, as the oak was regarded as a sacred tree by the Slavs. Researchers have also found artefacts of the Lusatian culture (from the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age). The mystery of the mound’s great strength was also uncovered, as it turned out that the construction was based on a high pole, to which were attached radially arranged, wicker partitions filled with compacted earth and stones (the creation of such a precise structure, for those times, would seem to contradict the theory that it was a spontaneous mound).
Another interesting aspect is the fact that the mound can be seen from the Chamber of Deputies in the Wawel Royal Castle, which is further evidence of its importance as it means that kings would have been able to look at it whilst making key decisions on important affairs of state.
Entry to the mound is free; and when you get to the top you can enjoy a panorama of the city centre and the Liban quarry. The hill that Krakus Mound sits on is also a great place for a picnic on a warm summer’s day.
Located in the Nowa Huta district, Wanda Mound is still something of a mystery for archaeologists. Believed to have been built around the 7th or 8th century, its legendary beginnings are tied to the daughter of King Krak, Wanda, who is said to have killed herself after declining the advances of a German prince. The rejected suitor had responded to her perceived snub by invading the Polish lands, which led the princess to commit suicide by drowning herself in the Vistula River to prevent further attacks. There is also another story, which says that her death was a sacrifice to the pagan gods in gratitude for the victory over the German invader. The mound is supposedly located in the place where the princess's body was fished out of the river.
Archaeologists researching the mound also discovered that if you stand there on November 4th or February 6th, it’s possible to observe the sunrise appearing directly over Krakus Mound. And the same view is possible in reverse when standing on Krakus Mound on May 2nd or August 10th. This could be connected to the Slavic holidays of Dziady and Gromnica, and the festival days of the god Perun. Another hypothesis connects sunrise with the Celts, who in those days had reached the area close to present-day Krakow, and their astrological observations which influenced the dates of the holidays.
Entry to the top is free. There is an embankment about 14 metres up, from where you can get a beautiful view of part of Nowa Huta. On top of the mound there is a monument of an eagle designed by Jan Matejko, one of the most affluent Polish artists of the 19th century.
The highest mound in Poland, Piłsudski Mound is 35 m tall and 111 m in diameter. It was built between 1934 and 1937 using soil from all the battlefields of World War I where Poles had fought. During World War II, Nazi governor Hans Frank gave orders for it to be flattened, but fortunately the order was never carried out. After the war, however, the communist authorities decided to do that very thing. Therefore, in 1953, the whole slope of the mound was destroyed and the granite slab bearing the engraved cross of the Polish Legions that rested on top of the hill was also removed. The renovation process only started in 1981, when the mound’s base was filled with compacted earth from the battlefields of World War II.
Entry is free, and you can get there by taking one of the marked routes in Wolski Forest. The view from the mound, showing the city emerging above the trees, is one of the prettiest panoramas in Krakow.
Esterka Mound was located in the gardens of the royal palace at Łobzów until the 1950s. It is thought to have been built in the 14th century in honour of the mythical Esterka, the beloved of King Casimir III. This semi-legendary woman is supposed to have jumped to her death from her window into the lake below at the news of her lover’s betrayal. The mound is said to have been the place where she was buried.
Unfortunately, the mound was completely destroyed – without any consultation with archaeologists – during construction of the WKS Wawel sports stadium, in what was a huge loss for historical research.