The basilisk is a famous monster from ancient mythology, found in Roman legends, medieval stories, and more recently, in the second Harry Potter book. In Warsaw, there is also a legend about this monstrous creature and its lair.
It is said that long ago, the basilisk lived in the basement of a ruined castle in what is now the Old Town Market Square, sleeping during the day and wandering the city at night. Under cover of darkness, the creature killed all that came across its gaze by turning them to stone. It demolished buildings and stole livestock and riches, killing many people and amassing a great fortune for itself over the years.
The Warsavians had accepted their fate and lived with this creature among them—that is until a tailor named Jan Ślązak came to town. Though Ślązak only meant to stay in Warsaw for a short time until passing on to the next town, this plan was spoiled when he was arrested and wrongfully accused of murder and sentenced to death. This would have been the end of the tailor were it not for a blacksmith who recently lost his child to the basilisk. The smith suggested that the city ask Ślązak to kill the beast and spare his life if he succeeded. The city council agreed, assuming that the tailor would fail and be dead by morning.
Ślązak prepared for the fight by buying a large mirror and sneaking into the basement around dusk, when the basilisk was still sleeping. He then positioned the mirror in front of the beast and made a noise to wake it up. This caused it to jump up, ready to attack the intruder, but when it looked at its own reflection the beast immediately turned to stone, and Ślązak became a hero.
These days, there are still traces of the mythical basilisk all around the city, most of them in the form of murals. But one particularly notable depiction can be found outside a restaurant at the legendary site of the creature’s basement lair. The restaurant is named after the basilisk, marked by an imposing statue of the beast resting on the sign outside the door. The basilisk’s eyes are lightbulbs that glow red, giving a very scary glow befitting its menacing past.
Know Before You Go
The basilisk is located outside Bazyliszek Restaurant in Warsaw's Old Town Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta Warszawa) and is freely accessible to view at any time. The restaurant itself serves traditional Polish food and is worth a try. Keep your eyes out for other depictions of the basilisk as you explore the city.