A trip to the Wieliczka salt mine
Wieliczka Travel Blog› entry 8 of 41 › view all entries
We met the tour bus to the Salt Mines across from the City Gate. The Wieliczka mines are famous in
A vast Miocene era inland sea evaporated and left the salt deposits that have been mined since the Middle Ages. The salt was a precious commodity and once was a major source of income for this area. Salt is still mined here but only as a by-product from the removal of salty water required to keep the mines open for tourists. This is very much a tourist industry with many gift shops and cafes deep underground for the over 1 million tourists who visit each year. There is even a health spa on the lowest level.
To enter we walked down a stairway that seemed to go on forever, the guide said 45 stories, and into large caverns lined with whitewashed wood bracing. It was chilly but not cold and not claustrophobic as I’d feared it might be. We walked through 22 different caverns/chapels carved out by the miners with statues of astronomers, kings, saints and gnome all made of salt. The earliest chapel was carved in 1690 by the miners so they’d have someplace to pray before going to work. The mines were incredibly dangerous; seeping water made the salt slippery, the temperature was over 100 degrees, cave ins were possible, and there was little ventilation.
The tour was a two hour walk through these galleries, past salt chandeliers and statues, gift shops and cafes before we got on an elevator back to the surface. The elevator was part of the entertainment. No more than 9 people could fit into the open cage so I had a great view out as we rose rapidly to the surface. We seemed to rise forever and it was a very rapid elevator. That alone, if nothing else, emphasized just how far down we had gone.