Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow
The Wieliczka Salt Mine in the Krakow metropolitan area is something of an enigmatic legend in Poland. Built in the 13th Century it is the world´s 14th oldest company and is decorated with sculptures made from salt. Referred to as "the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland” in 1978 it was yet another of Krakow´s many treasures to be added to the UNESCO list of World heritage Sites.
The mine was in production for seven centuries until it was forced to cease commercial mining in 1996 due to low salt prices and the excessive flooding of mine shafts. It would continue to produce table salt however until 2007. Reaching depths of 1073ft (327m), Wieliczka Salt Mine is over 190 miles (300km) long and attracts around 1.2 million visitors a year.
During its illustrious history the Wieliczka Salt Mines has attracted some esteemed guests including Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Lord Baden-Powell, Bill Clinton and local boys Fryderyk Chopin and Karol Wojtyla who would later become Pope John Paul II.
The Sculptures of Wieliczka Salt Mine
Today the mine is a museum and offers visitors more surprises than you would expect. Only a very small percentage of the mine has been used to display exhibits which features an underground lake and dozens of statues carved from rock salt. Many of the sculptures were created by miners including an entire chapel complete with a reception room that is used for private functions. It is not uncommon for people to hire out the chapel for weddings and other celebrations.
To enhance the sculptures of the workers, new carvings created by Polish artists are also on display and include historical figures who visited the mine. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. The Salt Mines also house a private rehabilitation and wellness complex visitors are invited to visit and experience the benefit of salt therapy treatment.
To make the most of your visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, take the tour. They are available in English and several other languages and depart every 30 minutes. A wooden staircase has been built to take you down into the shafts where you begin the 3km tour through various chambers where you will discover the sculptures and the remarkable chapel. An elevator back to the surface takes about 30 seconds.
When you visit you may be surprised to find the rock salt is not naturally white, but various shades of grey and looks remarkably like unpolished granite rather than the crystalline white you would expect. Don´t forget to take your cameras, but you should be warned there is a surcharge for pictures and video.