European Legends

“Europe, in legend, has always been the home of subtle philosophical discussion; America was the land of grubby pragmatism.”

Daniel Bell

Illustration - Europe Legend

Imagine the swiss William Tell, riding the polish Dragon of Krakaw in the french Broceliande Forest… Dream of the italian Befana joining the Mariatrost witch’s ride in Austria… Visualize the flying  dutchman boat sailing on the scottish Loch Ness Lake, closed to the german Lorelei, and her best friend Melusina… Once put together, all those European legends deliver all the creative potential of the old continent. Legends in Europe are at the heart of our society and history. They inspire nowadays many international movies and attract billions of tourists all around the world, to discover and dream about the origins of a fantastic monument, the magical beliefs behind wonderful sightseeing, the historical anecdotes explaining  amazing cultural practices. Europeans are respected for their rich and vivid folklore in the world : the following list is a first attempt to pay due tribute to this patrimony. Click on the title of the legend to discover the full version of the legend for each European country.

European Legends

Portugal

Portugal - Cock of BarcelosCock of Barcelos

The legend of the Cock of Barcelos tells the story of a rooster’s miraculous intervention in proving the innocence of a man who had been falsely accused and sentenced to death. The “Galo de Barcelos” became then a symbol to the town of Barcelos and is nowadays considered to be one of the typical symbols of Portugal. Barcelos is a city about 30 Kilometers from Braga. [read]

Spain

Spain - The Bell of HuescaThe Bell of Huesca

The legend of the Bell of Huesca describes how Ramiro II of Aragon cut off the heads of twelve nobles who did not obey him. The legend is told in the 13th-century anonymous Aragonese work the Cantar de la campana de Huesca. The legend is totally made-up, since Ramiro II arrived to the throne by some other chance and his image is that of a personage of great political ability that, was earned infinity of friendliness. The expression of the Bell of Huesca is still used nowadays in Spain to describe a resounding event. [read]

France

France - Forêt de BrocéliandeBroceliande Forest

Brocéliande is the name of a legendary forest in Brittany that first appears in literature in 1160, in the Roman de Rou, a verse chronicle written by Wace. Brocéliande is the place of many legends, such as the story of the Breton knights, the place where Yvain pours water from a spring into a stone, causing a violent storm to erupt, the site of a mill where King Arthur battles a strange bull-like animal, the forest where the wizard Merlin lives and is burried. For the druids, the forest of Broceliande was a place of predilection and the scene of numerous exploits… [read]

Iceland

Islande - Odin's RavenOdin’s Ravens

Huginn (“thought”) and Muninn (“memory” or “mind”) are a pair of ravens that everyday at dawn were supposed to travel across the nine worlds, at the end of the day perch on Odin’s shoulders and whisper news to him. Odin is regarded as the major god of Norse Mythology and is associated with war, battle, victory and death, but also wisdom, Shamanism, magic, poetry, prophecy, and the hunt. Huginn and Muninn are attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier Icelandic traditional sources. [read]

Ireland

Ireland - Finn Mac CuhaillFinn Mac Cuhaill

Finn Mac Cumhaill is a celebrated warrior in Irish literature, with stories concerning him continuous in the literature for well over a thousand years. One popular story tells of a salmon that knew all of the world’s knowledge. Finn decided to eat the Salmon to gain the knowledge. As he was cooking the fish, juice squirted out and burned Finn’s thumb. Finn stuck his thumb in his mouth to stop the pain and instantly learned the knowledge the salmon carried. From then on, anytime Finn sucked his thumb he gained whatever knowledge he was seeking. [read]

United-Kingdom

United-Kingdom - Loch Ness MonsterThe Loch Ness Monster

The legendary monster of the Loch Ness has been affectionately referred to by the nickname Nessie and is reputedly said to be a large unknown animal that inhabit a lake in the Scottish Highlands. Popular interest and belief in the animal’s existence has varied since it was first brought to the world’s attention in 1933. Sightings of Nessie have declined over recent years and despite high-profile submarine searches and much-disputed photographs, the beast seems quite content to maintain its low profile. [read]

Norway

Norway - SelmaSelma

Selma is a lake monster said to live in the lake Seljordsvatnet in the norwegian city of Seljord. According to most who have seen the supposed creature, Selma closely resembles other reported lake monsters, such as Nessie. The first eyewitness accounts date back to the 18th century. The Swedish explorer and cryptozoologist Jan Ove Sundberg has been trying to capture Selma for a number of years, but has not succeeded. Selma was possibly recorded in video by a Norwegian girl, who was visiting the lake with her parents. Locals think the video looks reliable, and the phenomenon is real. [read]

Sweden

Sweden - SigurdSigurd

Sigurd is a legendary hero of Norse mythology, as well as the central character in the Völsunga saga. He was a warrior and member of the royal family of Denmark and a descendant of the god Odin. He was raised by a blacksmith named Regin, who made him a special sword from pieces of a sword owned by Sigurd’s father. The earliest extant representations for his legend come in pictorial form from seven runestones in Sweden. Later, J.R.R. Tolkien made an adaptation of the legend in verse under the name The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún. [read]

Finland

Finlande - UkkoUkko

Ukko means old man. The legendary character was a god of the sky, weather, and the crops. He was also the most significant god in Finnish mythology and the Finnish word for thunder, “ukkonen” is derived from his name. Ukko’s weapon was a hammer, axe or sword, by which he struck lightning. While Ukko mated with his wife Akka (“old woman”), there was a thunderstorm. He created thunderstorms also by driving with his chariot in clouds. [read]

Denmark

Denmark - King DanKing Dan

The story of King Dan is part of the legendary underpinnings of the Danish national self-image. Essentially, it is the story of the eponymous king Dan, and of how Denmark acquired its name. Throughout the years, the characters of King Dan appeared in many works of Danish literature, such as the Lejre Chronicle, the Rígsthula, the Skjöldungasaga, Ynglinga saga, Sven Aagesen, the Gesta Danorum and the Song of Eric… [read]

Netherlands

Netherlands - Flying DutchmanFlying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman is a legendary Dutch ghost ship that can never make port, doomed to sail the oceans forever. The myth is likely to have originated from 17th-century nautical folklore. If hailed by another ship, the crew of the Flying Dutchman will try to send messages to land, or to people long dead. In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship is a portent of doom. In Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films, the ship made its first appearance in Dead Man’s Chest (2006). [read]

Belgium

Belgium - MannekenpisManneken Pis

The Manneken Pis is a small bronze fountain sculpture in Brussels depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke. The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle. [read]

Luxemburg

Luxemburg - MelusinaMelusina

Melusina is a figure of European legends and folklore, a feminine spirit of fresh waters in sacred springs and rivers. She is usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent or fish from the waist down (much like a mermaid). She is also sometimes illustrated with wings, two tails or both. The Legend is particularly vivid in Luxemburg where her story differs a bit from the rest of the continent… [read]

Germany

Germany - The LoreleiThe Lorelei

The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine in Germany, which soars some 120 metres above the waterline. It is also the place where the enchanting Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, is said to live.  The legend tells that, after having been accused of bewitching men and causing their death, Lorelei was consigned to a nunnery. On the way thereto, accompanied by three knights, she came to the Lorelei rock. She asked permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. She did so and felt to her death; the rock still retained an echo of her name afterwards. [read]

Switzerland

Switzerland - William TellWilliam Tell

The Legend of William Tell is recorded in a late 15th-century Swiss chronicle.  It is set in the period of the original foundation of the Old Swiss Confederacy in the early 14th century. According to the legend, Tell, being an expert marksman with the crossbow, assassinated Gessler, a tyrannical reeve of Habsburg. There are several accounts of the Tell legend. The earliest sources give an account of the apple-shot, Tell’s escape and the ensuing rebellion… [read]

Italy

Italy - La BefanaLa Befana

In Italy, la Befana is one of the oldest and most celebrated legends. Each year on January 6 the children of Italy awaken in hopes that La Befana has made a visit to their house. This is a significant day to Italians because it marks the end of the Christmas season and the day that the three Wise Men arrived at the manger of the Christ child. Over the years the Epiphany has been a more celebrated holiday for the children of Italy than even Christmas. [read]

Austria

Austria - Mariatrost Witch’s RideMariatrost Witch’s Ride

Built in the early 18th century on a 469-meter promontory, the mighty Church of Mariatrost rises up above the northern edge of the Styrian provincial capital of Graz. Above the stairs leading to the chancel built around 1770 appears a portrayal of the Witches’ Ride, a famous Austrian Legend. The painting depicts a witch seated atop a large cat, which is flying through the air. The witch is throwing a kerchief at a praying man who is holding his metal-soled shoes upward towards a small shrine containing a statuette of the Virgin Mary. [read]

Czech Republic

Czech Republic - The Golem of PragueThe Golem of Prague

The Golem is a popular figure in the Czech Republic. There are several restaurants and other businesses whose names make reference to the creature. The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late 16th century rabbi of Prague, also known as the Maharal, who reportedly created a golem to defend the Prague ghetto from antisemitic attacks and pogroms. To protect the Jewish community, the rabbi constructed the Golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river, and brought it to life through rituals and Hebrew incantations. [read]

Slovakia

Slovakia - White Lady of LevocaThe White Lady of Levoca

Slovakia has three White Ladies; one from Bratislava, one from Bojnice Castle, and another from Levoca. The one from Levoca is based on Julia Korponayova, who, when spying for the Hapsburg emperor in Levoca, a town which was presently besieged by the Hapsburg army outside its walls, became the lover of the rebel Hungarian baron. During the night, she stole his keys, and let the army in, leading to the fall of the town. This didn’t stop her from meeting an unfortunate end, however. [read]

Hungary

Hungary - Miraculous HindMiraculous Hind

The Hungarian Legend of the Wondrous Stag is one of the oldest legends of the nation. It is so old that it is found in various forms among those nations who were the distant relatives or neighbors of the Hungarians, long before their settlement in Hungary. The meaning and the wording of the legends may have changed slightly but they all have much in common. Today the remaining legend is relatively short, whereas in the past it was probably much more extensive. [read]

Poland

Poland - The Dragon of KrakawThe Dragon of Krakow

The Smok Wawelski is a famous legend and Fairy Tale in Poland about a terrible fire-belching Dragon, living in a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill in Kraków. Each day the evil dragon roamed around the countryside, killing people, pillaging their homes and devouring their livestock. The King wants to put a stop to that awful situation, but his bravest knights fell to the dragon’s fiery breath… The large 200-foot-long cave in Wawel Hill, Krakow, which has been known for centuries as the monster’s den, now attracts thousands of visitors each year. [read]

Lithuania

Lithuania - The Iron WolfThe Iron Wolf

The Iron Wolf is a mythical character from a medieval legend of the founding of Vilnius. First found in the Lithuanian Chronicles, the legend shares certain similarities with the Capitoline Wolf and possibly reflected Lithuanian desire to showcase their legendary origins from the Roman Empire. It tells the origins of the city of Vilnius which stood from the vision of an Iron Wolf. The animal is today one of the symbols of Vilnius and is used by sports teams. [read]

Latvia

Latvia - LāčplēsisLāčplēsis

The epic poem of Andrejs Pumpurs Lāčplēsis wrote between 1872-1887 is based on local legends and is regarded as the Latvian national epic. The poem recounts the life of the legendary hero Lāčplēsis, chosen by the gods to become a hero of his people. His name means “Bear-slayer”, because as a young man, living as the adopted son of the Lord of Lielvārde, he kills a bear by ripping its jaws apart with his hands. [read]

Estonia

Estonia - Ülemiste VanakeÜlemiste Vanake

The legendary-mythological “Ülemiste Elder” is believed to live in the lake. One dark night each autumn he rises from the lake, knocks on the city gates and asks, “Is the city finished yet, or is there still work being done?” The guards have strict orders to answer no, there’s still loads of construction going on and it’ll probably be years before it’s ready. The disappointed old man then turns and leaves, grumbling all the way back to the lake. The belief was that if the answer were ever yes, the old man would call up the waters of the lake and wipe out the city in a great flood. [read]

Belarus

Byelorussia - ElemantreeElemantree

Belarusian legend speaks of a great war that took place upon the country’s soil long ago, between man and the elephant-men who terrorized the countryside. Years and years went by with no hope of resolving this conflict until one day a student of the occult imprisoned the spirit of one of these elephant-men in a nearby oak tree. Terrified, the rest of the elephant-men retreated, but it is said that at night the eerie trumpeting calls of the elephant-man echo through the Belarusian woods. [read]

Ukraine

Ukraine - The Legend of BliznitsaThe Legend of Bliznitsa

Bliznitsa, like all of the Ukrainian Carpathians, is sung about in songs and tales. One of the most interesting legends is about the name of the summit. Three peaks, located close to the site, are by residents called the Twins. The highest of them is called Bliznitsa (as in the local dialect is usually called one of twins.) This comes from a popular legend… [read]

Moldova

Moldova - DragoșDragoș

Dragoș was a Romanian voivode in Maramureşwho has traditionally been considered as the first ruler or prince of Moldavia. According to legend,Dragoş crossed into Moldavia from Maramureş while hunting an aurochs and imposed his rule there, colonizing the territory with Romanians from Maramureş. Dragos had many hunting dogs, but one he favoured the most – the smartest and the best at hunting, whose name was Molda. During the chase after the buffalo Molda jumped into a stream but didn’t manage to get ashore and drowned. Dragos missed the dog a lot and, to give the animal the credit, decided to name the country after it – Moldova, or the Country of Moldova. [read]

Romania

Romania - Legend of ManoleThe Legend of Manole

“The Story of Manole” is a legend kept alive by the imagination of several generations, by some old practices, by the prattle of simple people, and by several popular rimes. The Monastery about which the story is told is named “Curtea de Argesh” after the town in which it is located. Up to the present day, it has remained the pride of the Romanian people, and all visitors can well admire the impressive interior of this Church as well as its unusual architecture. On one of its walls, even today, people can see a mark which is related to this legend. [read]

Slovenia

Slovenia - Little Dragon Jami in Postojna CaveLittle Dragon Jami in Postojna Cave

Postojna Cave  is a 20,570 m long karst cave system near Postojna in Slovenia created by the Pivka River. It is the second-longest cave system in the country (following the Migovec Cave System) as well as one of its top tourism sites. It is said that in the cave lives a little dragon called Jami. Jami is a wicked dragon, small, friendly, good-natured little dragon who loved sunshine and flowers. The legend tells that he guards the cave pearls. [read]

Croatia

Crotia - The Black QueenThe Black Queen

There are several legends that pass between the generations in Croatia about the Black Queen.  Some of them originate from the Zagreb area, often set in Medvedgrad. The Black Queen is the most infamous mythical resident of Zagreb. She is a diabolic lady in long black robes, hence the name. But her name also perfectly suits her vicious personality, knowledge of evil magic, ability to shapeshift. She was a cruel ruler, a witch, a snake and a fearsome dark apparition on the forest pathways. Black Queen once ruled the Medvedgrad castle, a medieval city that rises above Zagreb on the slopes of the Medvednica mountain. Historians tend to find the source of folktales about Her Viciousness in actual female rulers of the castle. [read]

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia - Queen KatarinaQueen Katarina

Catherine of Bosnia was Queen of Bosnia as the wife of King Stephen Thomas. After her husband’s death in 1461 she became the queen dowager of Bosnia, but had to flee the Ottoman invasion in 1463. Although she is often called “the last queen of Bosnia”. Historian Dr. Vlajko Palavestra found, while collecting works of folk traditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that the memory of Queen Katarina remains alive to this day. Legends on Queen Katarina can be heard from old people in the villages near Kraljeva Sutjeska, Kreševo, Fojnica, Olovo and other towns of central Bosnia. [read]

Serbia

Serbia - Sava SavanovićSava Savanović

Sava Savanović is one of the most famous vampires in Serbian folklore. Sava Savanović was said to have lived in an old watermill on the Rogačica river, at Zarožje village in the municipality of Bajina Bašta. It was said that he killed and drank the blood of the millers when they came to mill their grains. Although he is usually said to have been the first Serbian vampire, there are claims that he was pre-dated in Serbian folklore by Petar Blagojević from Veliko Gradište, who died in 1724. [read]

Albania

Albania - Rozafa CastleRozafa Castle

Rozafa is the castle near the city of Shkodër, in northwestern Albania. associated with a famous legend about a woman who was buried in the foundation of the castle. The three King brothers who build the castle had to decide to sacrifice one of their wives. They agreed to choose the wife who would bring lunch to them the next day. Rosafa, the wife of the youngest brother, was the one who brought lunch the following day… [read]

Bulgaria

Bulgaria - The First MaternitsaThe First Maternitsa

For more than 1,000 years, Bulgaria celebrates its national holiday on March 1st called ‘Baba Marta,’ Grandma March. At this occasion, Bulgarians wear a small special ornament made of red and white yarn on this day, called ‘Martenitsa.’ The belief is that if you wear the Martenitsa, Baba Marta will help you, and spring will come more quickly. The tradition comes from the legend of the falcon of Khan Asparuh, the first Bulgarian king, who was shot by an enemy while crossing a river… [read]

Macedonia

Macedonia - NarechniciNarechnici

Narechnici are demonic Mythological creatures. Always presented as three women who come on the third night of the birth of the baby to predict his destiny. They are sometimes presented as three sisters where the youngest sister is the best and always undoes the evil curses of the two other sisters. [read]

Greece

Greece - HeraclesHeracles

Heracles was outwitted by his nemesis Hera from before the time he was born. After his birth she tried to destroy him by putting snakes in his crib, but he was too powerful even then. He grew up to become the hero who beat the odds time and again, performed amazing, often helpful tasks, and yet was full of human foibles, even to the point of having to expiate the horrible crime of murdering his own children. Heracles was the greatest of the Greek heroes, a paragon of masculinity, the ancestor of royal clans who claimed to be Heracleidae and a champion of the Olympian order against chthonic monsters. [read]

Cyprus

Cyprus - Five Fingered MountainFive Fingered Mountain

Cypriots are very fond of their ‘five fingered mountain’ (the Pentadaktylos) in Kyrenia but reasons for its strange appearance varies greatly. The most popular theory is the romantic but tragic tale of a lowly villager who fell in love with the queen, and gathered enough courage to ask for her hand in marriage. The queen wished to be rid of the impertinent young man and requested that he bring her some water from the spring of Apostolos Andreas monastery in the Karpas, a perilous journey in those days… [read]

Turkey

Turkey - The Grey Wolf LegendThe Grey Wolf Legend

The Wolf symbolizes honor and is also considered the mother of most Turkic peoples. Asena is the name of one of the ten sons who were given birth by a mythical wolf in Turkic mythology. The Turkish legend of of the Grey Wolf is considered to be the first major legend to have originated from Turkey and is also one of the most famous amongst the entire collection. The legend narrates the great rise of the Turkish Empire to its zenith, as it became the global leader of the world. [read]

 

If you liked this article, you may also like European Monsters, Fairy Tales, Historical Movies and Writers.

Mini - European Monsters  Mini - European Fairy Tales  Mini - European historical movies  Mini -Litterature heroes

Copyright 2013. Europeisnotdead. All Rights Reserved.