Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Wieliczka Salt Mine (pron: vee-el-eetch-ka) is located in the town of Wieliczka outside Krakow. It is one of the most astonishing places I have ever visited and I knew I had to include it in my novel Are My Roots Showing? which came out on Amazon in May through Cirrus Publishing. Most of the action in the book takes place in Warsaw but there is also a section that takes place here in the salt mine in southern Poland. I first found out about it as a child in Polish School which took place on Saturday mornings (a common occurrence in the UK at the time). It was in a book about Poland its geography and culture and I knew I had to visit it one day.
Wieliczka opened in the thirteenth century and amazingly, it has four chapels hewn entirely out of rock salt, not to mention lots of amazing statues carved out of salt too. It produced table salt until around 2007 but commercial mining stopped eleven years before. There was a time when miners were paid in salt because it was so valuable.
Childhood dream it may have been – I’ve been to Wieliczka salt mine twice now – once on my own in late 2004 when it was under a thick blanket of snow and again in September 2010 with my husband (I’d really bigged it up) and he wasn’t disappointed.
The amazing thing is that the miners themselves carved out the chapels and statues out of the rock salt. It took tens of generations of miners to complete it.
Rock salt chapel
Chapel Kinga, the biggest chapel is entirely made out of salt. It has a salt floor, a salt altar, even Jesus is salt. There are rock salt chandeliers that have been treated to be ‘crystal clear’ but everything else is a beautiful and mysterious pale glassy grey.
There are 178 miles of corridors but you only walk along 2 of those miles. As you pass through the cool corridors, passing various salty pools with different statues in them (the waters are incredibly still and you wonder if you’d float in them like in the Dead Sea), as you walk you’ll see occasional bubbling up of some pure white crystals in the nook of a wall, like a sort of white salt cauliflower sprouting. The air feels pure and ‘mineral’ in character and there is a health resort within the mine where people go to have respiratory conditions treated. To me, the air seemed quite pure, cool and curiously still.
You take steps down around 120 metres, although at its deepest, the mine measures around 327 metres. There are rooms for conferences and theatre shows too but these aren’t made of salt!
It’s the most fantastic place and somewhere you simply must not miss it if you ever go to Krakow. It’s been on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List since 1978.
Also, I have learned that there is an even older sister site you can visit at Bochnia.
For more information about visiting Poland see here.