The Wieliczka Salt Mine: An Underground Cathedral of Poland
The Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow is visited by almost two million tourists from all over the world every year. In 1978, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The labyrinth of corridors can be compared to a bustling underground city, in which we will see picturesque landscapes, salt sculptures, salt lakes, chapels, and chambers created by miners.
Mineral mining in this place began in the Middle Ages and lasted until 1996. At the dawn of time, salt was obtained from brewing brine (a solution with a high salt content) from sources that hit the surface.
This method of salt production was known to humanity over 3,000 years before Christ. Over time, the brine sources ran out, so people started digging in the ground. This method enables people to find the first rock salt. In the Middle Ages, salt was one of the most essential and expensive raw materials, referred to as white gold. Salt was highly valued, and its production was legally restricted in ancient times, so it was historically used as a method of trade and currency.
At the end of the nineteenth century, salt deposits began to shrink, and the quality of extracted salt inexorably decreased. In 1996, the industrial stage in the Mine ended, and the process of securing the underground heritage began.
Although salt is no longer extracted on a massive scale, the Mine is still bustling with mining life. The Mine preserves as much as possible of the underground world for future generations. After all, Wieliczka is a unique monument of mining history and unusual on a global scale.
What to see and how to visit Wieliczka Salt Mine
Visiting underground salt city can be done in several ways.
Most popular among visitors is Tourist Route, on which we will see real masterpieces carved with the human hand in the salt rock. The Underground Tourist Route includes 20 cells, 800 stairs, 2.2 km of sidewalks.
We reach the third level of the Mine at a depth of 135 m. Visiting the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine takes about 1.5 hours. On the route, we will see mysterious dark corridors, salt sculptures, salt transport equipment, as well as stalactites and stalagmites. The most beautiful is a Chapel of St. Kinga.
A magnificent chapel was erected in her honor, which today is the most crucial point during the mine tour. Undoubtedly, the fascinating place is the underground salt lakes, from which we can admire the incredible light show. The salt city will also allow us to learn the secrets of miner’s work and see the most important mining machines and tools.
There is also a Miner’s Route which usually, does not include visited chambers and leads to less frequented areas of the Mine. To somehow assume the role of miners in Wieliczka, you will need appropriate equipment and clothes.
The mining equipment is obtained before entering; however, you have to prepare for expeditions, including taking care of the right shoes and attire. During your stay underground, you measure the concentration of methane, crushing salt, laying pavement linings, and explore unknown chambers.
An interesting fact is that we use sidewalks over 200 years old on the route. For about 3 hours, together with a qualified guide called the “przodowy,” you can explore places where valuable deposits were mined.
For families with children, the most interesting route will be discovering Solilandia. Traversing underground corridors with a map and flashlights, children will solve puzzles that will bring them closer to the secrets of the fairy-tale land.
During the tour, they will meet the Treasurer, the Solonia dragon, and the lovely elf – Soliludka. Parents also participate in the game, helping their children. Finally, the kids receive diplomas.
Due to the relatively long walking time (about 2.5 hours) and the need to climb stairs, the program is suitable for children from 5 years old. It must be remembered that the temperature is below 14-16 ºC underground, so it is worth taking warmer clothing.
The Pilgrims’ Route
An alternative option is The Pilgrims’ Route. Tourists can learn about mining faith, and tradition. The cult of holy patrons has been permanently connected with respect for hard work.
The pilgrimage route has four underground chapels, numerous places of culture, and work certificates. The tour of the “God Bless” Pilgrims’ Route takes about 2.5 hours.
Wieliczka Underground Health Resort
The unique microclimate in the Wieliczka Salt Mine creates perfect conditions for the treatment of respiratory diseases. Wieliczka air is saturated with chloride, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium ions, which promotes proper hydration and cleansing of the respiratory tract.
In the salt chambers located 135 meters underground, people fight the symptoms of asthma, allergies, or the effects of smog. The Mine is characterized by clean air, one of the most beneficial to humans in Europe.
A visit to the brine graduation tower should be included in your plan when visiting Wieliczka, mainly for health reasons. While walking here, we inhale a natural salt aerosol, which supports the treatment of selected respiratory diseases, as well as has a prophylactic effect.
Besides, the graduation tower also offers a 22 m high observation tower from which you can admire the Wieliczka panorama.
Wieliczka Salt Mine Interesting Facts
In 2006, the Mine was visited by over a million guests. Over half were foreigners – the most British and German.
The largest sculpture that can be seen at the Wieliczka Mine weighs 15 tons.
The chambers in the Mine are famous for their excellent acoustics; therefore, numerous concerts and festivals are organized here.
Tourists began to visit Mine from the 15th century; however, this privilege belonged to a few and required the consent of the king himself.
In the highest room – Stanisław Staszic’s Chamber – the first underground balloon flight took place.
Even if you’re in the Krakow for the weekend, Wieliczka Salt Mine is not to be missed. Admired for centuries by its visitors, including numerous personalities from the world of politics, science, and culture, Wieliczka belongs to the most important places of both Polish and world cultural heritage.
Tickets should be booked in advance because of numerous crowds of tourists wanting to visit this wonder of technology line up in long queues under the Mine. Save your time and book your tickets here.