Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
The most famous salt mine of Poland is situated in a small town Wieliczka nearby Krakow (south of the country). The site was placed on the UNESCO’s First World List of Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1978.
There is an easy access to the town – as public and private transport is available from Krakow. The cheapest way to get there is to take the mini van (leaving from the centre of Krakow) that reaches either the centre of Wieliczka or the very salt mine. On the spot one can purchase guided tours around the site – as sightseeing without the guide is not allowed.
The history of the Wieliczka Salt Mine is connected with Hungarian princess – Blessed Kinga. According to the legend she threw her ring into the salt mine in Marmaros (Hungary) when departing to Poland to get married into Polish Royalty. On the way to Krakow she stopped and asked her servants to dig a well in a given place but instead of water her ring was found – in a lump of salt. Indeed, the history of the salt mine in Wieliczka goes back to Middle Ages when the salt was used as a mean of payment. In 14th century the salt mine brought about 30% of the total income of the state.
In 18th century the restorative and tourist capacities of the salt mine were discovered and soon after the brine baths in Wieliczka began to be used as a form of treatment. The fresh air of the salt mine is said to cure the respiratory system diseases – therefore the site serves as sanatorium and people spend there nights to experience wonders of salt air.
Apart from the good influence on health, people discovered the site as a tourist attraction. Famous people – as Chopin, Copernicus or Geothe – have visited in the past Wieliczka Salt Mine, that is now open to wider audience. The route leads you through tunnels – but each tourist must first walk down 380 steps only to get there. The biggest attractions of the site are chapels – with St Kinga’s as the most popular among them. Its decorative walls are covered with illustrations of the scenes from the Bible. The chamber is lit by chandeliers made of crystalline. The dimensions of the chapel might be a surprise too. On the way you will see many sculptures carved in salt – as bringing down the wooden ones was not allowed due to fire danger. The miners, who became more religious due to work in constant danger, would make the statues for their own, personal use.
Green lakes, that you can admire during your tour, used to be available for a boat trip – due to the tragic accident, that took place many years ago, this part of the Salt Mine tour was closed for tourist.
The whole tour lasts about 2 hours – and at the end of it you will reach shop area, museum and larger rooms were from time to time football matches are played or New Year’s Eve is celebrated. You will be taken back upstairs by a lift.
Although situated outside of Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine is a must see of the city. It is not a pure tourist attraction but also a witness of history and changes in development of salt mining. However, one things is sure – nowhere else you will find a place like this!