When I was in Kraków in September, we had a tour of the old city. We stopped near the base of the beautiful and old St. Mary’s Church ( Kościół mariacki) a Basilica, right on the rynek or market square. Then, right on the top of the hour, a trumpter appeared high atop the church in the steeple. He pointed the long golden trumpet out of the window high atop the spire, first to the west, then to east, then, south, and then north. The trumpter played a tune each time, and each time the tune stopped abruptly. And so we learned of the tradition and legend behind this practice which happens every hour, on the hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This tradition, in one form or another, has been said to have gone on nearly uninterruptedly for over 700 years!
The legend behind this is thus. In medieval times, the trumpeter would play his call morning and night to announce the opening and closing of the city gates. But they would also use this vantage point to sound an alarm if needed. It was in 1241 that the Mongol horder arrived at the gates of Kraków to lay seige to the city. Legend has it that as the trumpter was sounding the alarm, he was shot dead in mid note by a Mongol arrow–but the gates of the city did get closed and the Tatars were locked out. And so to this day, every day, every hour on the hour, the trumpet is sounded in memory of the act by which this ancient trumpeter sounded the alarm and raised the call the prevented the fall of Kraków to the Mongols over 700 years ago.
Not only is this repeated every day and every hour, but since 1927 it has also been played live every noon on Polish national radio. The tune that is played is called the Hejnał mariacki. If you’d like to hear it and learn a bit more about it, you can do so here: http://www.krakow-info.com/hejnal.htm. And you can learn more about the Trumpeter of Kraków here: http://www.cracow-life.com/poland/trumpeter-krakow-hejnal.
When I was in Hejnał played a number of times when I was on the rynek (square). It never ceased to move me. And It took the time (and paid the few zloty it cost) to climb the 400 or so uneven and steep stairs all the way to the top of the spire at St. Mary’s Basilica, and I was there when the trumpeter played, and got to look out those very same windows where nearly 736 years ago the trupeter spied the invading Mongols. An amazing experience and one I higly recommend. No wonder I enjoyed so much, there is so much history there.