Magical. Mysterious. Absolutely impressive! These are words I’d use again and again to describe the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Cultural & Natural Heritage Site located in the town of Wieliczka in Southern Poland. Salt deposits in the mine began to form 13.6 million years ago, and the first shafts were dug during the 13th century. With 3 kms of corridors to walk, 800 stairsteps to climb, and 135 meters to descend, it can be said that the tour can be quite exhausting. BUT you’d rarely notice the exhaustion, thanks to the amazing wonders in the popular Salt Mine!
It took about 30 minutes to get to Wieliczka from Krakow, and upon arrival, we were given 15 minutes of free time by the tour guide. There were different routes to choose from, but since we wanted to take the things easy, we opted to go with the Tourist Route, the main visiting route being taken by thousands of visitors each year. (For visiting information, visit here.) Whichever route you choose, you have to pay a photo fee in order to take photos and videos, which can be done at the ticket booth outside or in a small one-man booth in the mine.
The Tourist Route starts at the Danilowicz Shaft. We had to descend about 350 stairsteps to a depth of 64 meters in the beginning of the tour. The steps were quite small, so one had to be very careful! There were 20 chambers to visit, which would take about 3 hours. The first level, The Bono, lies adjacent to a cave-altar with a very beautiful chandelier hanging in the ceiling! Afterwards, we started the long walk through the corridors, while the tourguide explained how work was in the mine during the earlier times. Everything was manual labor, as expected. Later on, humans developed devices and machineries to make things easier.
We were also told of the legend of Princess Kinga, the daughter of the Hungarian king Bela IV. She married the Polish ruler, Boleslaw V the Chaste, in the 1200s and supplied Hungarian salt, which was being mined in Wieliczka. The princess joined a monastery and eventually became a Catholic saint. (Read more about the interesting history of the mine here.)
To give you an idea of how some corridors can be very crowdy:
After passing by King Casimir III the Great’s chamber, we continued descending via endless staircases! (haha!)
Of the 20 chambers, we were told that the Chapel of St. Kinga was the most brilliant one! True enough, it was. The chamber was a huge hall with high ceilings, decorated with huge well-lit rocksalt chandeliers, and surrounded by amazing salt works of religious figures. Among them is a salt statue of the first Polish pope, John Paul II, who became head of the Catholic Church in 1979, a year after the Salt Mine was entered on the first list of 12 UNESCO Natural & Cultural Heritage sites. The rock salt statue was installed in 1999. The Chapel of St. Kinga, located 101 meters below, is the only underground church in Europe. (Read more interesting trivia about the mine here.)
After resting a bit and taking loads of photos at the Chapel, we continued the walking tour through meandering saline corridors and steps. We even walked on floors made from pressurized salt! And watched a musical light show at the underwater lake in the Erazma Baracza chamber. The Michalowice chamber had an astounding woodwork that I could not find the words to describe! After these chambers, we took a little rest at the gift shops, where one could buy anything and everything salt products and souvenirs.
When you reached the gift shops, then you could certainly say that you’re nearing the end of the tour. A few more corridors and you’d find yourself in the underground restaurant, where they sell Polish gourmet (we didn’t have time to eat!), and the Wisla Chamber, where the exit starts! Well, we started with a cave altar, we ended with a chapel — St. John’s, built in 1859. Then, we were divided into groups of 10-12, and we took the lift up! If you have read reviews on travel sites, you’d probably noticed that many dreaded the lift going up. It was very.. tiny, and hasty! But that was the least of our concerns at that time. Our eyes were fed, but the tummy was spared! So, we grabbed some good authentic Polish dinner upon arriving back at the city center. 😛
This is all for now! See you on the next entry! #spreadlove