Sunday, November 26, 2017

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine (Polish: Kopalnia soli Wieliczka) had been one of my "must visit" destinations until this summer in 2017, although it's not so far from where I currently live (Olomouc, Czech Republic). It is located in Wieliczka within the Kraków metropolitan area. 

The salt mine, run by the Żupy krakowskie Salt Mines company, was one of the oldest mines that the history dated back to the 13th century and kept producing table salt until 2007. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996, because of salt prices going down and also mine flooding. The mine is one of Poland's official national Historic Monuments (Pomniki historii), as designated in the first round, 16 September 1994. About 1.2 million people visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine annually!!!

Image from Wiki
When you visit Krakow, there are millions of tourist offices offering the guide tours. The guide tour price varies according to the service - the more expensive tour tends to include pick-up service in front of your hotel - No need to take public transportation, no need to buy a tour guide when you get there. 

Chapel of Saint Kinga

Joining the guide tour means you are obliged to follow your guide as a group of around 30 visitors. You are not allowed to be alone there. In other word, being alone in the mine means you are likely to get lost in humongous underground salt world!
Rock-salt carving of Pope John Paul II
After setting-up the radio headphone, the following action visitors make in the tour is to come down the everlasting stairs to a depth of 64 meters. By following a guide's voice through the radio-headphone over walking almost 3 km (which is still less than 2% of the length of the mine's passages!!!) of meandering corridors, you encounter stunning beauty of chapels, statues, reception room that are all made of salt, as well as underground lake located at 135 meters in depth. 

Underground lake in Wiemar Chamber
If you haven't been to, I strongly recommend to visit there and indulge yourself in the crystal beauty of past industrial technologies and the faith among hardworking miners.

Casimir III the Great (left)
From time to time during the tour, you encounter well-carved statues. The bust of Casimir III the great (1310-1370) can be found in more than 100 meter underground corridor. Of course, he is made of salt rock carved by miners. He is called "the Great" because he was deemed a peaceful ruler, a “peasant king,” and a skilled diplomat. He reformed the Polish army and doubled the size of the kingdom. He reformed the judicial system and introduced a legal code, gaining the title "the Polish Justinian". He was the founder of the University of Kraków, the oldest Polish university. He also confirmed privileges and protections previously granted to Jews and encouraged them to settle in Poland in great numbers. 

He is portrayed in 50 Złoty.

St. John Chapel
The Chapel of St. John, a symbol of Wieliczka miners' faith and worship, is considered to be the most beautiful chapel with wooden furnishings. It is located 135 meters underground with floor area of 153 square meters. It appears at the very end of the tour. Make sure your camera battery is still alive and still enough space in memory card...

Chapel of Saint Kinga
There is no doubt that the Chapel of St. Kinga, located 101 meters underground with 31 x 15 m dimensions/ 465 square meters, is the biggest highlight of the tour. When you search image of Wieliczka Salt Mine, you are very likely to find images of this chapel. Due to the tour, I could only stay around 12 min.... Way too short!

All made of salt!!!

There is a legend about Saint Kinga of Poland (1224-1292). Well, she was a Hungarian princess born in Esztergom in Kingdom of Hungary. When She was betrothed to Bolesław V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków in 1200s, she persuaded her father, Béla IV of Hungary, for a lump of salt because Krakow had lots of gold but hardly any salts then.  Before Kinga heading for Kraków, her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros county in Hungary where she threw her engagement ring given from her fiancé, Bolesław, in one of the shafts. Upon arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess's ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital. Her discovery of salt mine had brought Kraków the 700 years wealth by salt export.
Michalowice Chamber
Michalowice Chamber is another breathtaking timber-made structure built by mimers you encounter. jaw-dropping view!!!

Souvenir shop
I am not sure if the "embedded" souvenir shop was also made by miners... but so cool!

In 1978 it was placed on the 
first UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites.

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