A decision to visit The Wieliczka Salt Mine came spontaneous.
During our weekend in Krakow (read here about it) weather turned bad, so we were forced to look for an alternative to walks through the old town. Fortunately, we discovered that there’s a town Wieliczka situated only 10 kilometers from Krakow and that it’s got a salt mine/museum standing on the enormous salt deposits.
My imagination came up with narrow passageways, chambers, stalactites and other inevitable cave attributes. But reality turned out to be far more dramatic.
Deposits of rock salt in Wieliczka region has been exploited since the 13th century. Naturally, the monopoly of this industry belonged to the monarchs – Polish, Hungarian, depending on the historical conjunction. Judging by the scale of the mines and their elaboration, salt was a rather merchantable product.
Nowadays salt isn’t mined here. Gold is, truth told only collected from tourists – you can visit a tourist route, necessarily guided, on which you’ll be will professionally and interestingly reported about all the facts and legends in any way connected with diggings. You can also participate in a mining excursion – here you’ll experience all delights of primary salt production. There’s a functioning sanatorium specializing in cure of lung deceases within the base of the mines. But it’s nearly not it: there are chapels and acting temple underneath the earth.
A tourist route will start with a rather long steps descend. From there we go into the first mines’ corridors, they are narrow and supported with wood logs, which have been saturated with salt through the centuries and now are stiff as a rock. But the farther we went along the corridors, deepening into the ground, the less impression it made that we are actually 100 meters underneath.
Formidable halls, perfectly lit, entirely of rock salt, underground lakes, and stairways disappearing somewhere below make an illusion of an underworld. Shortly described, it seemed to be Moria of “The Lord of the Rings”.
There are numerous sculptures made of rock salt, the ones of Copernicus, Goethe, statesman Józef Piłsudski, king Casimir, Pope John Paul II. And also scenes connected to legends about mines’ foundation – princes, kings, princesses, dwarves and the master of a Salt Mountain. As if they have fallen off the pages about salt king and wise girl, who reckoned salt more expensive than gold.
In addition, mines have a perfect tourist infrastructure – there are gift shops, children’s corner and, casting a spell not only on children, but on adults too, Wieliczka’s model with moving trains, horses, gates and hoists, a restaurant, where you can grab a bite, educational center, where you are to be presented with a half-hour documentary about salt mining. At the moment of our being there was a ballroom dancing championship held in one of the halls. So the scales are, indeed, king-size.
You’ve got enough opportunities to linger underground a little longer after 2-hour excursion and don’t get bored. And by the way, breathe deeply – salt inhalation is included in the price!