Worth Its Salt: Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine

Worth Its Salt: Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine

If you’re in Krakow, Poland, and hear people say they’re “heading back to the salt mine,” they might be serious.

Although it’s a figurative phrase for many reluctantly heading back to work, school, or a tedious task, the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow is a real place. Workers began chipping away at this mine in the 13th century.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the salt mine has been attracting tourists and travelers for hundreds of years with its underground chapels, chambers, and statues carved from salt.

Today more than one million visitors explore Wieliczka Salt Mine each year, seeing just a fraction of its 2,000+ saline caverns.

Visitors inside St. Kinga's Chapel, made entirely of salt and the world's largest underground church <br>Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board

Visitors inside St. Kinga’s Chapel, made entirely of salt and the world’s largest underground church
Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board

Into the DeepThis Polish salt mine is more than a quarter-mile deep and extends more than 175 miles. Yes, miles. Walk down 110 to 111 steps depending on where your tour begins, or ride the original 17th century miners’ elevator if you want to save your soles.

Over two miles of walkways feature chambers and chapels carved from rock salt by professional sculptors and self-taught miners back in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chandeliers are made from salt, lighting up nooks, crannies, and caverns and illuminating the way to an underground saline lake. It may be hard to imagine, but windsurfers, bungee jumpers, and even hot-air balloonists have made their mark here. View rudimentary mining equipment, and learn how mining evolved over the years and centuries with more complex mining tools and mining techniques.

It's a long way down: Wieliczka Salt Mine is more than 1,000 feet deep <br>Photo credit: David W. Allen

It’s a long way down: Wieliczka Salt Mine is more than 1,000 feet deep
Photo credit: David W. Allen

This underground lake at Wieliczka Salt Mine is, of course, filled with salt water <br>Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board

This underground lake at Wieliczka Salt Mine is, of course, filled with salt water
Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board

Sodium Chloride StatuesA highlight of this salt mine visit is its crown jewel, the cavernous Chapel of St. Kinga, patron saint of salt miners. This underground church is filled with sodium chloride (salt) statues of popes, saints, altars, and a replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Mass is offered in this sacred, saline place, and couples have married here as well.

"The Last Supper" is carved in salt, deep inside the Wielcizka mine <br>Photo credit: David W. Allen

“The Last Supper” is carved in salt, deep inside the Wielcizka mine
Photo credit: David W. Allen

Born in Poland as Karol Wojtyla and now a saint, Pope John Paul II's likeness is carved out in this salt statue <br>Photo credit: Lindsay Fincher

Born in Poland as Karol Wojtyla and now a saint, Pope John Paul II’s likeness is carved out in this salt statue
Photo credit: Lindsay Fincher

 If religious figures aren’t your cup of tea, perhaps Disney is. A tongue-in-cheek cave is carved with Snow White and the 7 Dwarves, “heigh-ho-ing off to work” in the mine – diamond mine, that is.

Can you spot the salty dwarves? There's Grumpy, Sneezy, Happy, Bashful, Happy, Doc and of course Dopey <br>Photo credit: Lindsay Fincher

Can you spot the salty dwarves? There’s Grumpy, Sneezy, Happy, Bashful, Doc and of course Dopey
Photo credit: Lindsay Fincher

Breathe DeepAllergies a problem? Stop by the underground sanatorium and health spa for asthma and respiratory treatments, a refreshing breath of pure air free of allergens and pollution. There’s even a name for it: “subterranotherapy.”

Polish Underground CultureThere’s nothing subversive in the Wieliczka Salt Mine: underground concerts (acoustics are fantastic), art exhibits, fashion shows, film shoots, meetings and even underground church services are common. Local musicians organized their own brass band, making music underground for almost 200 years. With so much “saline culture” below ground, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is dubbed the “underground salon of Krakow.”

On the right, a brass band is depicted playing in the salt-made underground concert hall <br>Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board

On the right, a brass band is depicted playing in the salt-made underground concert hall
Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board

 

Travel to Poland with MIR

Little over two decades after regaining its independence, Poland has become one of the powerhouses of Europe. Visit the gracious capital of Warsaw and lovely Krakow, stroll the beaches of the Mazury Lake District, hike the trails of the spectacular Tatra Mountains, talk to the local people and you will agree with us.

MIR has over two decades of travel experience to Poland, with on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

MIR has two itineraries that visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine:

  • MIR’s wintery small group tour to Poland, Christmas Traditions of Poland, is perfect for travelers of any age. Celebrate the heartfelt holiday traditions of Poland, wandering Krakow’s brilliant Christmas Market and joining a Polish family in their Warsaw home for the intimate Christmas Eve feast called Wigilia, where you can sample 12 different traditional dishes.
  • Or, opt to travel to Poland any time of the year on our Essential Poland independent journey or on a custom private journey – each trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.

 

Contact MIR today at [email protected] or 1-111-111-1111.

 

(Top photo credit: Polish National Tourism Board – miners depicted working in the Wieliczka Salt Mine)

PUBLISHED: September 22, 2014

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