Slowackiego Theater, Krakow, Krakow, Poland
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The Trumpeter of Krakow (Hejnal)

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Throughout warmer months, climb the top of the tower to meet the trumpeter and see spectacular views of the city from heights.

The Trumpeter of Krakow (Hejnal)

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Every hour on the hour, a plangent trumpet call rings out four times from the taller of the twin towers of St Mary's Church. People in the Main Square look up and wave at the bugler when he finishes, and the bugler in turn waves back. What is the story behind the tradition and why does the haunting melody (the hejnal) stop so abruptly?

Like all good legends, there is a multitude of answers and no definitive proof for any of them, but the one that resonates most strongly with the people of Krakow and is most enduring goes as follows: in the 13th century, when Poland was repeatedly invaded by the Mongol Empire, Tatar warriors were approaching the city of Krakow. A watchman stationed in the church tower saw them and sounded the alarm with his trumpet; a well-aimed arrow from the invaders caught him in the throat, ending the call in mid-stanza. Nevertheless, the alarm had been raised and the archers of Krakow were able to repel the invader.

Somewhat disappointingly, the earliest documented account of this comes from American Eric P. Kelly's book "The Trumpeter of Krakow" published in 1928, although this does tie in to an extent with the earlier Lajkonik legend; whatever the veracity, it certainly makes a good story. It has been suggested that the bugler waving back to the people below is to reassure them that he is still alive and watching over Krakow.

Regardless of legend, the tune has been played for many centuries, and the midday signal is broadcast every day on Polish national radio. It is considered a national symbol of Polish indomitability, and was notably played after victory by Polish forces at the battle of Monte Cassino in WW2. Members of the fire service, who also use the tower as a lookout post, have performed the duty since the 19th century.

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