About 10 kilometres (~6 miles) south-east of Krakow, a small town hides an unbelievable treasure.
This town is Wieliczka, and the treasure is its Salt Mine, where salt has been extracted since the 13th century up until 2007, which made it one of the world’s oldest salt mines in operation.
What makes this salt mine so interesting? Maybe the 3 kilometres (~2 miles) of corridors open to the public (and that represent just the 2% of the total)? Or is it the 800 steps needed to be climbed during the visit? Or maybe the constant temperature of 14-16°C?
Sure, all of this is great, but there’s something that makes this mine unique: the artistic work of the miners, who have carved statues and entire chapels out of the rock salt.
Visits to the salt mine are possible only with a guide. Tours in many different language are available, so check the website for their schedule!
During the guided visit, after descending 380 steps, you will be able to walk the mine corridors and admire underground saline lakes, entire chambers carved out of the rock, statues and bas-reliefs chiselled out in what the Polish call “grey gold”.
St. Kinga’s Chapel will leave you breathless: situated 100 metres below ground level, 54 metres long (177 ft) its surface measures 465 square metres (5,000 sq. ft) and it’s been entirely carved out of rock salt. Its creation took 70 years of work to the sculptors/miners!
Every single pendant of the chandeliers has been made by dissolving salt and pressing it back together in order to create a crystal looking piece. The walls are lined with bas-reliefs reproducing famous works of art, like Leonardo’s Last Supper.
The altar and the pulpit are many centuries old, and they are now flanked by a salt statue of Pope John Paul II.
Masses are celebrated in St. Kinga’s Chapel, which is also known as “the underground Cathedral” and is also host to concerts, due to its perfect acoustics.
And if the visit makes you hungry, the mine’s underground restaurant will be the perfect place to satisfy your needs. A hot plate of ‘pierogi’ (Polish Dumplings) or a portion of ‘Kremowka’ (Pope John Paul II’s favorite cake) will make you feel better for sure!
USEFUL AND INTERESTING FACTS:
– If you are going to Wieliczka from Krakow, take the minibuses from Pawia Street (close to the train station). These are the best way to reach the salt mine, but ask the driver to let you know where to get off, or you might miss the stop!
There are 20 chambers to visit – the Chapel of St. King is the most brilliant one.
– The temperature underground ranges between 14° and 16° C, so dress accordingly.
– Wear comfortable shoes. This is not the place for high heels!
– The average time needed to visit the salt mine is approximately 2 hours.
– The salt mine has been visited by more than 40 million tourists from all over the world.
– UNESCO added this site to it’s World Heritage list in 1978