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Lajkonik parade in Krakow, Poland

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Krakow traditional pageant of the Lajkonik horseman. 

Krakow's Lajkonik parade

The Lajkonik parade, one of Krakow’s most colorful traditions, has long been the city’s trademark festivals. Every year the playful, bearded fake Mongol rides his ornate hobbyhorse through the streets of the historic center of Krakow on the first Thursday after Corpus Christi feast day. Followed by a company of men clad in historical costumes and a raucous musical band, the Lajkonik halts their procession for a while every now and again to perform his prancing dance. On his way to the central square the Lajkonik visits chosen shops and Krakow restaurants to collect a “ransom”. And he never tires of pretending blows with his mace, dealt to everyone within reach, as the touch of the mace allegedly brings good luck and people swarm around him, small change in hand to pay their “ransom”.

Other traditional name of the Lajkonik is "Konik Zwierzyniecki" but nowadays it has practically fallen into disuse.

Since 1947 the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow has assumed responsibility for the Lajkonik pageant and the organization of the event every year.

History of the Krakow Lajkonik festival

No doubt the tradition of the Lajkonik hobby-horse parade in Krakow is very long. However historians aren’t certain whether the locals correctly associate the pageant with the Mongol raids that tormented Poland in the 13th century. One popular legend explains the Lajkonik festivities as the commemoration of a defeat of a Tatar (i.e. Mongol) troop at the hands of Krakow ferrymen but there are scholars who think this fable may date from the 19th century. Some historians maintain that the Lajkonik tradition has evolved from the medieval celebrations of one of the Krakow guilds. Others point to even older, pagan origins in fertility spring rituals. As regards the Lajkonik’s oriental looks and attributes, one theory ascribes them to the long-lasting fascination with the Orient manifest in the 17th-century Poland.

The Lajkonik costume.

Today's attire of the Lajkonik as well as its hobbyhorse date to 1904 when the city commissioned Stanislaw Wyspianski, one of Poland's greatest artists, to design it. The complete costume weighs forty kilograms or so. Apart from the day of the Lajkonik parade it is exhibited at the Palac Krzysztofory palace, the seat of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, at 35 Rynek Glowny central square and Szczepanska street.

The itinerary of the Lajkonik parade.

The Lajkonik pageant starts at St. Nobert Convent (Klasztor Norbertanek), 88 Kosciuszki street, in the Zwierzyniec area. The parade proceeds down the following streets: Kosciuszki, Zwierzyniecka, Franciszkanska, and Grodzka to reach the Old Town's main square, Rynek Glowny, at the end. There are two longer performances called "harce" - at St. Norbert convent and in front of the Filharmonia Krakowska concert hall at 1 Zwierzyniecka street and Straszewskiego street. All together it takes some six hours. 

The Lajkonik parade culminates in a final show on Rynek Glowny central square. The mayor pays tribute to the Lajkonik and the Tatar horseman drinks a cup of wine in a toast to the happiness of Krakow. Next the Lajkonik and his companions perform their signature dance.

Lajkonik pageant in the 19th century - Krakow, Poland

Painting by Hipolit Lipinski (b. 1846, d. 1884) shows the lively pageant of Krakow Lajkonik in the 19th century.



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