This was over two months ago now... but it was one of my favourite things to see in Krakow, that I couldn't leave it without a blog to go with the photos!
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are about 35 minutes out of Krakow. I decided to take a tour out there, as it was rather cheap and meant I didn't have to organise anything. It turned out to be a good idea, because without an organised tour, you just crowd around the entrance with all of the other few hundred tourists, hoping to get in some time soon.... while all the organised tours are ushered in in front.
I had heard great things about the mine and was definitely not disappointed. It is the oldest and largest salt mine in the world that is still in operation. Most of this 'operation' is to keep the tourists happy when buying salt at the gift shop, or for those daring enough to do the 'miners' tour, you can actually swing a pick-axe and learn the mining way.
To get down the to start of the tour, we had to walk 64m down stairs... and emerged into the Urszula Chamber which was only opened in 1938. In terms of the mine, that is rather new. From this chamber we walked to the Nicholas Copernicus Chamber... mined 'before 1785'. This is where we came across our first sculpture. And boy was it something. In all the chambers of the mine, there were these huge sculpture, made entirely of salt. And not hand carved by fancy artists, but by the miners themselves over the years. That made them all the more special. Almost all of the Wieliczka Salt Mine isn't just veins of salt, running through the rock, but solid salt. It is something that makes this mine and area special, as generally, to find solid rock salt, it's just in small deposits. We were told that nothing we saw was rock... everything was salt - floor, walls, ceiling, everything.
From that chamber we walked through the Janowice Chamber (Mined in 1642 - with more beautiful sculptures) and Chapel of St Anthony. There were a number of Chapels, so the miners could pray. Poland is a very religious country, so this isn't strange, to have 4+ chapels in just the area the public were allowed.
The next chamber was the Casmir the Great chamber (mined in 1743), and one of the three most beautiful in the entire mine. Huge and cavernous, it showed (for the first time with non-salt statues) how the salt is mined, with horses and wheels. Also a salt sculpture of King Casmir himself.
Walking to the Pieskowa Chamber and then down to 101m to the Chapel of St Kinga - this was the MOTHER CHAMBER! An enormous room used for masses sometimes. Of everything we could see, only the bannister down to the chamber was wood, and there were a few cloths hanging over alters, and a few light fixtures... EVERYTHING else was salt. Everything from the pictures on the walls of biblical events (eg. a salt carved relief of the Last Supper), an effigy of Pope John Paul II, and a number of small chapels off to the side. Even the chandeliers were made of salt crystal. It really was a site to see!
After this we walked to the Michalowice Chamber (mined from 1717 onwards). It is 23m in height so has a lot of wooden beams holding it up, with an approximate volume of the whole room being 23,000 cubic metres.
Onto the Józef Piłsudski Grotto (mined in the beginning of the 19th C), one of the most beautiful rooms, it has a salt water lake and lots of light to make the reflections breathtaking! And the Stanisław Staszic Chamber (opened in 1866), all wood beams and salt walls towering up to dizzying heights.
Finally onto the Warszawa Chamber, this is the ball room one. You can hire this room and host events such as weddings, fashion parades, or even boxing matches (we saw one on the promotional video). A beautiful room with a polished wooden floor, and at our tour's lowest depth of 123m below the ground.
If you ever get to Krakow, definitely put this place on the 'Must Do That' list! You won't regret it.
To see the amazing place in more detail... definitely go to the website: http://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com/visiting. You can even do an interactive tour.