Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Wieliczka Salt Mine can be visited on a day trip from Krakow, Poland. The bus will take 30 - 45 minutes to travel to the mine. Several notable people has visited the mine. These include Copernicus, Goethe, Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton.
Salt was deposited about 15 million years ago. About 3000 years ago people started evaporating water from brine that floated to the surface. During the 13th century mining commenced and continued until 1996. By then a 300 km labyrinth of galleries, 3000 chambers spread over 9 floors and reaching a depth of 327 metres had been created. It was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 1978. Amongst the first group of sites to be so designated, it is still the only salt mine on the list.
There are three routes, the tourist, the miners and the pilgrims. I took the tourist route which is about 2 kms long. A staircase of 378 steps takes you 64 meters underground.
The salt is not white but grey with a granite texture. The mine has its own micro-climate with a constant temperature of between 14 - 16C. Along the tourist route there are a number of exhibits depicting the miners life and mining techniques.
One frienze depicts people with lighted torches. Their task was to go through the caverns and burn any trapped methane. It was dangerous work and explosions were common.
A miners life was tough and dangerous. Hence they tended to be religious. So they carved out four chapels. Most of the frienzes and statues in the mine were carved by miners.
Chapel of St Kinga
The Chapel of St Kinga is the largest and most ornate chapel. Measuring 18m by 54 m and 13 m high it was carved out by two brothers over 30 year period commencing in 1895. Its walls and interior are decorated by many statues and friezes. One frieze is a copy of Da Vinca' Last Supper. From the ceiling hang four crystal chandiliers. Actually they are made from salt which has been dissolved and reconstituted to create the crystalline appearance.
The chapels are used for a range of social function including weddings and concerts.
Erasmus Baracz Chamber
Also of interest is a salt lake in the Erasmus Baracz Chamber. The super saturated solution (320 g/l) is formed by water percolating through the rock salt. It is a luminous green. Erasmus Barącz was and engineer, who while working at the mines from 1915 to 1915, authored its drawings and plans.
Three hundred and seven up steps up to the surface? No! Return to the surface is via an elevator.