What is the Cracow Bugle? City needs a new bugle to keep the tradition alive

Are you good at small spaces? Do you like to dominate others? How are your knees? No, really… How are your knees? Can you climb 272 steps several times a day? And are you ready to move to Poland?

Every hour in the medieval Rynek Glowny Square in Krakow, a plaintive air is trumpeted four times, in the four cardinal directions. Called mariacki hejnał (pronounced: hey-now), the hymn is played from the former St. Mary’s Basilica in the square by an alternating team of seven players.

The trumpet team has now lost a man: 24-year-old veteran bugle Jan Sergiel is retiring, prompting the firefighters – the guys behind the bugle operation – to send a look for his replacement. And maybe, just maybe, it’s you.

click to play video

If you can handle some violent traditions, sure. Originally built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1347, trumpeter Hejnał Mariacki is stationed in the taller of the two church towers, which rises 260 feet above the square. Why the different heights? As the legend goes, this was a nasty case of sibling rivalry.

Two architect brothers were hired to build the towers, each claiming their own. The older brother worked faster and his south tower grew faster, making the younger one so jealous that he decided to assassinate his brother, capping his brother’s south tower with a cupola. Its completed tower was now taller, but its glory was short-lived. Devoured by guilt, he climbed to the top of his tower brandishing the knife he had used on his brother, then leaped to death. The (alleged) knife, now rusty, hangs in the Cloth Hall in the main square. (A more logical explanation for the different heights indicates that the taller bell tower is used as a watchtower, but the murderous drama is more fun.)

In the video above, you will notice that the melody stops quite abruptly. The story goes that when Poland was attacked by the Tatars in the 12th century, the tower watcher spotted their approach and started playing to warn the townspeople. Before he could finish, he was nailed to the neck with an enemy arrow, and the bugle’s call now ends the same moment he stopped, in honor of his heroism.

The hejnał has since become a symbol of Poland: it was played to commemorate the Polish victory in the Battle of Monte Cassino in WWII, and at the funeral of Piotr Skrzynecki, founder of the famous Krakow museum. Cabaret Piwnica Pod Baranami.


If you are a struggling musician, being a Hejnał trumpeter is also your chance to have a captive audience. In 1927, Polskie Radio began broadcasting the call daily at noon and continues to this day, making it the longest permanent radio show in the world.

The final conditions for the concert include Polish citizenship, which you can obtain by descent—A high school diploma completed and a clean criminal record. Love of pierogis is optional.

The least important, really, is the ability to play the trumpet. The hejnał may sound complicated, but it’s only five notes. So do as we say, and pretend until you get there.

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Vanita Salisbury is the senior writer for Thrillist. She is always looking for a captive audience.

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