To this day, there exists a little-known society in Krakow called The Marksmen (in Polish Bractwo Kurkowe). According to historians, it’s as old as Krakow itself – over 700 years old, dating back to 1257. Its main role was to protect the city. Thick walls, towers and gates by themselves weren’t enough, so a special elite unit was trained.
Every year, seven days after Corpus Christi, a shooting competition would be organised to determine the Champion Marksman. Early on, live chickens and roosters were used as targets and this practice eventually evolved into shooting a wooden rooster figure, hence the choice of a rooster as their symbol. The competition is still organised to this day, and offers a real treat to onlookers since participants are dressed in the traditional feathered fur hats and velvet jackets of the Polish nobility of old. For more information, visit their website (in Polish, albeit with splendid images).
This shooting contest was once an important event for all of Krakow’s artisans. Representatives of the different professions carrying flags of their respective trades took part in a parade that departed after a mass from St Mary’s Basilica on the Main Square and reached the shooting-range. Those at the front of the parade were dressed in traditional Turkish, Persian and Tatars costumes and carried light rifles, singing as they walked. Next came the shooters and finally the Marksmen King with the Silver Rooster medalion hung around his neck. A gift from Sigismund Augustus, a 16th century king of Poland, today the Silver Rooster is part of the collection of the Historical Museum of Krakow. On some rare and special occasions, it is still presented outside of the museum.