I always thought salt came from the sea and only the sea. It never occurred to me that earth can also have a salt mine hidden in her belly. Until I saw one such mine in Southern Poland, Wieliczka Salt Mine, not too far from the town of Krakow.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Since the mine is well below sea level, you only see a small building when you reach the entrance. But the marvels start to appear after you have descended about 400 wooden steps to reach the first level i.e. the top level of the mine. Various flights of steps take you further down till you are 300+ meters below ground level. And thankfully there is a miner’s elevator to bring you back to the ground. The Wieliczka Salt Mine has produced salt since 13thCE till a few years back.
Rock Salt Mines Krakow – Things to do in Krakow
Rocks with a high level of salt content are the source of table salt that is indispensable for any cuisine. If you lick the rock, you can taste salt. As you walk in through various wooded corridors, you wonder why so much wood is stuffed here in a neat pattern. Almost making the place look like a storehouse of wood. Guide smiles and explains that this is to ensure that the cave does not cave in. That is the wood bears the weight of the rock above the excavated area ensuring the safety of people working in the mine. And also ensuring the continued use of mines for a long time.
At various places, there are sculptures showing various mining activities with replicas of the equipment they used – which is again mostly made of wood. There are turnaround pulleys that were used to push the salt out of the mines upwards. There are water channels that transported saltwater from various places inside the huge mine, there are channels indicating the trolley tracks.
Sculptures of Salt Rock
What makes this mine unique today are the sculptures that have been carved out of salt rocks. All over the mine, there are carvings on the walls, and statues standing in various chambers. An underground chapel, a ballroom, and a huge dining room that serves as the restaurant. Some chambers have statues of famous visitors to the mine over the years of its existence. One such visitor was Nicholas Copernicus who was a famous scientist and studied at Krakow University. The sculptures in various shades of grey are enchanting. Most of them depict saints and scenes from their lives. Famous sculptures here include those of St Barbara and Pope John Paul II. There are scenes from the myths and legends around the mine. Primarily associated with people who owned or started the mine.
Even the chandeliers have been made out of salt crystals, polished to an extent that the light shimmers through them. The floor is made of tiles from the rocks here. Intelligent lighting creates a surreal effect. Our guide told us that most sculptures were created by the miners themselves, and their names are engraved on plaques in the ballroom. I loved the creativity used in the most mundane of the places that have converted a non-operational mine into a tourist hot spot. And a UNESCO world heritage site.
Lake and Water bodies in Mine
Nature has also played its role in making this an intriguing place. Apart from filling the mine with salt, that added taste to the food of millions over 800 years. Salt Mine has a natural lake and water bodies in it. In fact, this is how the mine was discovered when a small stream of water coming out of this place was found to be salty by some natives. Today, a small audiovisual show tries to blend music with the natural elements of the cave. There are salt deposits here and there that create various natural formations like cauliflower or a scorpion.
Salt Mine Wellness
The air inside the salt mine is supposed to have a healing effect as the presence of salt ensures purity in the air and no infections can breed in this air. A section of the mine that is not open to tourists serves as a wellness center. Where diseases like Asthma and other allergies are treated. People are made to stay in the mine and absorb the air here so that their systems are cleansed of any allergies. As a tourist, there are various routes that you can take in the mine, but only with trained guides who come in miner’s uniforms. Regular tours involve walking around a 2 km or so path, you can take a little more adventurous treasure hunt in the mine. Even more adventurous night tour and a miner’s tour where you have to wear miner’s outfits, and helmets, and go with your own miner’s lamp.
A must-see place if you are anywhere in southern Poland. Keep at least half a day for the mine and shopping of various rock salt artifacts including jewelry.
Recommend you to read the following Things to do in Krakow. And places to visit during your Polish Holidays.