A few weeks ago, my wife had to go to Krakow for a conference, so we decided to make a city break out of it as neither of us had been to Poland before. Krakow is a fantastic city, which I would highly recommend a visit to, and which I have added to my list of best city breaks ever. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the salt mines at Wieliczka just outside of Krakow. This is probably the most fascinating place I have ever visited, and is about as close as you can get to being in the mines of Moria from the Lord of the Rings. So it comes as no surprise that 1.2 million people visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine annually.
The salt mine in Wieliczka is a unique development in the history of mining, because the rock salt deposits were mined here without interruption from the early 13th century to the end of the 20th century. The scale of excavation in this mine is very large, with corridors, galleries, chambers, underground lakes, as well as minor and major shafts, which are located over nine levels and extend for the total of about 300 kilometres, reaching a depth of 327 metres
The largest collection of original tools and mining equipment illustrating the development of mining technology from the Middle Ages to modern times have also been preserved here.
The mine also features a 3.5-km touring route for visitors (less than 1% of the length of the mine's passages) that includes historic statues and mythical figures. The oldest sculptures were carved out of rock salt by miners, and more recent figures have been fashioned by contemporary artists.
|The Daniłowicz Shaft|
Our tour began by descending 378 steps down the wooden staircase in the Daniłowicz Shaft into the mine on Level I at 64 meters below.
As you enter the chambers, timber beams prop-up parts of the chambers, over time these timber beams have soaked up so much salt that they have become rock solid themselves. The salty air that preserves the wood down in the mines is free of bacteria and allergens, which is also beneficial to asthma sufferers, and for this reason the mines also include an Underground Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre, that operates as a non-public healthcare centre. The Centre is the world leader in providing innovative rehabilitation and treatment of respiratory system diseases basing on the best practices of contemporary medicine, while profiting from the natural micro-climate of underground salt excavations which cannot be recreated on the surface of the earth.
|The Mikołaj Kopernik Chamber|
We then ventured on to the next chamber, which was named after Nicolaus Copernicus, who was one of the first tourists to visit Wieliczka Mine. On the 500th anniversary of the famous astronomer’s birth, this salt rock carving ‘Copernicus’ by sculptor Władysław Hapek was added to the chamber. This was the second time that day I discovered a famous historical person to be polish (the other being the great Chopin)
|An old doorway off one of the chambers|
|Saint Anthony’s Chapel|
|The Janowice Chamber|
|The Casimir the Great Chamber|
|The Pieskowa Skała Chamber|
|The Holy Cross Chapel|
|The Saint Kinga’s Chapel|
|The Saint Kinga’s Chapel|
|Saint Kinga’s Chapel|
|bas-reliefs carved into the salt rock of various scenes from the bible|
|Alter, Saint Kinga’s Chapel|
|Tiles carved into the floor of Saint Kinga’s Chapel|
|various bas-reliefs from around the chapel|
|Chandeliers made from salt|
|The Erazm Barącz Chamber|
|The Drozdowice Chamber|
|The Weimar Chamber|
|The Józef Piłsudski Chamber|
The chamber was created by combining the excavations of two adjacent blocks of green salt. In the 1830s, the Austrians linked the twin chambers with a 10-m tunnel when setting up the first tourist route. They also built wooden stairs and a platform, and filled the bottom of the chamber with brine. A special tourist attraction was provided by raft crossing through the tunnel to the accompaniment of fireworks and music played by the mine orchestra. Of particular interest is also the 19th-century figure of Saint John Nepomucene, the patron saint of the drowning. Despite the saint’s presence in the chamber, there was a case of mutable drownings here. Apparently back during the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Germans used the salt mines as a base, one evening a group of intoxicated German solders decided to go out for a boat ride, which resulted in the raft capsizing, and in all onboard drowning
|The Warszawa Chamber|
There are many fantastic chambers to see (20 in total) over the 3 hour tour of the Wieliczka salt mines, too many in fact to talk about as this blog post is already becoming epic. The last chamber I will mention is the last chapel you pass before being transported back to the surface by a four-level dark old mining lift from a depth of 135.6 m.
|The Saint John’s Chapel|