Wieliczka Salt Mine
Wieliczka Salt Mine, also known as the Krakow Salt Mine is a 'must' when you visit Poland! It is a world-class, Unesco-listed underground landmark. Each year more than 1 million tourists visit the mine – not without good reason. It was built in the 13th century and produced table salt continuously until 1996. The mine reaches a depth of 327 meters. It is so deep that it would easily fit the Eiffel Tower! The mine is spread over nine levels. Tourists can descend to the third level of the mine - 135 meters deep. The tourist route is 3 kilometers long. Under the ground level, you can find saline corridors, salt sculptures and statues, spectacular timber constructions, saline lakes, and twenty magnificent chambers chiseled out in rock salt. The Wieliczka Salt Mine complex also has a graduation tower, located on the surface. It is a curative place where you can inhale a natural, salt "aerosol". This air has similar healing properties to that inhaled by the sea. Breathing the air in Wieliczka can significantly improve the health of people with diseases of the upper respiratory tract thanks to the content of sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
St Kinga's Chapel
The most important attraction of the mine is the only underground church in Europe. It is dedicated to St. Kinga, a patron saint of salt mine workers. The chamber was built in 1896 at the depth of 101 meters. The main point of the chapel is the glorious altar with the statue of St. Kinga. In 1994, the saint’s relics were hidden in the niche of the altar table. Another important landmark in the chamber is a statue of John Paul II, which has been standing here since 1999. It the world’s only monument of the saint pope made from salt. Another element that you should pay attention to when visiting the chapel is a relief depicting the Last Supper, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's artwork. On the walls of the chamber, you can see other, equally beautiful, reliefs depicting the events described in the Holy Bible, including the wedding in Cana of Galilee or the flight to Egypt, as well as Christ teaching in the temple, the road to the Bethlehem, the unfaithful Thomas, the slaughter of the innocents or the sentence of Herod. Last but not least, the elements which draw the most attention are spectacular chandeliers made of salt crystals. Holy Masses are celebrated in the chapel on Sundays and, for example, on Christmas Eve at midnight.
History of Wieliczka Salt Mine
Archaeological research shows that the beginnings of salt-making in Wieliczka date back to the Neolithic period (around 3500 BC). The discovery of rock salt took place in the second half of the 13th century. The commencement of its large-scale exploitation dates back to the 1280s, when the first shaft, known as the Goryszowski shaft, started operating. From the very start of the mine's operations, it was decorated with salt statues. The town Wieliczka was founded in 1290 by prince Przemysł II. The heyday of Wieliczka took place during the reign of Casimir the Great. The Saltworks Statute, granted by the king in 1368, for the first time, regulated the rules of mining and selling the salt, which already at that time constituted one-third of Poland's income. In the same century, city walls were erected, craft workshops were established and the Saltworks Castle was expanded. The castle was the seat of the management of the mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia and it was erected at the end of the 13th century. Wieliczka became the capital of the old Polish industry with a well-known and respected brand (the mine's trademark is the first one used in Poland). The heyday of the Krakow Saltworks lasted until the mid-17th century. Salt was extracted in Wieliczka from three levels, using eight shafts. The wars of the second half of the 17th century shook the salt economy for some time; it was not until the 18th century that specialists who came from Saxony improved the technical and organizational operations of the salt mine.
During the Industrial Revolution, when Wieliczka was under Austrian rule, the mine developed significantly with an increase in salt extraction, the introduction of machines, and the employment of professional engineering staff, as well as the launch of modern salt works in 1913. In the 1770s, part of the mine became available for visitors. The most notable guests of the mine include Emperors Franz I and Franz Joseph, Tsar Alexander I, Dmitry Mendeleev, J.W. Goethe, Frideric Chopin, Jan Matejko, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Ignacy Paderewski, and many others. The outbreak of World War 2 meant the end of the Polish reign in Wieliczka and a partial change in the profile of the mine's activity, which from then on was used only for production purposes. The tourist route was closed, only occasionally German officers visited the underground. In 1978 Wieliczka Salt Mine was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the twelve first sites in the world! The official name on the Unesco List is Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines. The mining of salt ceased completely in 1996.
The legend about Princess Kinga
Underground you can experience the alluring mystery of the mine and listen to all the legends and secrets hidden underground for centuries. You can hear one of the most fascinating Polish legends inside the Chapel of St. Kinga. She was a Hungarian princess who is known for bringing precious salt to Polish land. A Polish prince Bolesław the Chaste proposed to the princess with a beautiful engagement ring. She did not want to receive gold or precious stones as a dowry. Instead, she asked her father for salt, which she would give as a gift to her future subjects. The father, wanting to fulfill his daughter's request, gave her a mine in the Maramuresz region (present-day Romania). The princess threw her engagement ring into the mine shaft, which symbolized taking possession of the mine. Soon after that, Kinga arrived in Poland, at the court of Bolesław. Sometime later, in a small village near Krakow, a lump of salt was found, from which Kinga's engagement ring had fallen out. Ever since that, it has been believed that the ring Kinga threw into the Maramuresh mine brought precious salt to Poland. Since then, the mine in Wieliczka is famous for its rich salt deposits.