Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
National symbol of Poland is a white eagle against a red background that appeared as a heraldic emblem in 13th century. But there is a beautiful legend of three brothers, that is connected with it and explains not only the use of white eagle as a symbol of Poland but also the origin of the name Gniezno – that was the first capital of the country.
According to the legend there were 3 brothers – Lech, Czech and Rus. As the lands in which they lived became too small for their families and troops, they decided to leave them in search of new ones. They gathered their people and started their journey. Czech went to the south and founded Czech Republic, while Rus, who went to the east, founded Russia. Lech went to the north and wandered across vast plains. He and his troops decided to get rest nearby the old oak tree when they noticed a beautiful white eagle that flew over their heads to perch on its nest. Having seen the eagle feed its brood, Lech decided that this must be a good land for a new home for him and his people. White eagle became the symbol of Poland, while the capital of the country – where they built their houses around the very oak tree – was called Gniezno – as the name derives from “gniazdo” (that means in Polish “a nest”). The people called themselves Polonians (in Polish: Polanie) – what meant “people of the field”. Piast dynasty – that was the first dynasty ruling Poland – came from this tribe.
Historians had numerous disputes about the fact whether Lech had ever existed. He is, however, mentioned by one of the most famous chronicler of country – Gall Anonim – to be the ancestor of Mieszko I, who joined the tribes to form Poland. Also his name survived in Polish language in many different forms – such as Lech, Leszek or Lestek – as one of the most popular and typical traditional male names of the Poles.
It is also worth mentioning that later on one of groups of Slavic languages, that gave birth to Polish language as well, was called Lechitic.
Although the official Polish flag consists of two horizontal fields of equal size (white at the top and red at the bottom) the emblem with white eagle with golden crown is still used by Polish diplomatic missions and official institutions abroad. It is also present in public places (such as schools) or at special occasions.