You may have visited mines where minerals are acquired and dug, but some mines can be amazing to explore. One such example is the beautiful Polish salt mine named Wieliczka. This ancient era salt mine is where you can see enticing and well-crafted structures such as chandeliers and carved chapels as well as underground lakes. The amazing thing is everything inside the mine is made of rock salt. The beautiful site has found a place in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The mine, located near Krakow in Poland, was created back in the 13th century. To explore the mine one has to go down 450 feet and then there are 152 miles of passageways to explore!
The hollowed-out caverns, made by incessant digging activities have been turned into places that look like fairy tales. It was in 1996 that continuous mining came to an end. The mine has turned into a tourist hotspot over the years. Its entrance looks rather mundane and once you get inside the sights catch your attention. The St Kinga’s chapel inside the mine is a stunning place. It has a version of the Last Supper carving, which is a masterpiece of Leonardo da Vinci. Inside the mine, you can pick from 2 routes originating from the St Kinga’s chapel. These are the tourists’ route and the miners’ route.
Those choosing the miner’s route get a unique experience. They can wear the attire and use accessories used by real-life miners. They also get to know the nuances of miners’ life, which can be quite an experience.
The Wieliczka salt mine
If you choose the tourist route, you will have to go deeper underground. There are 4 underground levels to explore and 800 steps to take. The intriguing thing is, you have to walk down to explore the underground passageways but there is an elevator to take you back to the surface level when you are done exploring. The viewers get amazed at the sight of Lake Wessel. The lake got flooded once in 1993 but no mishap took place owing to that. That led to the stoppage of commercial salt mining at the location.
The atmosphere is a bit damp owing to the presence of the water. The Stanisław Staszic chamber is what a lot of tourists love exploring and it is large. It is quite natural that such a place would attract the attention of the wealthy and celebs. Prince Edward of the UK and his spouse Sophie, Countess of Wessex visited the place. It was also explored by former Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk who held a meeting with his counterparts from countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia in 2009. The former Polish PM also showcased the amazing salt mine to the Visegrád Group.
The salt produced in the Wieliczka mine comes in varying hues. There are shades of gold, green, and grey and the sculptures made using these look stunning. Green salt is the most common variant though. The artisans spend a lot of time and effort to carve out the sculptures inside the mine. The interiors of the Chapel of St Kinga were designed over a period of 25 years, for example. There are statues of St Joseph, Madonna and Child, Pope John Paul II, and the crucifixion of Jesus inside the chapel. Many chambers inside the mine are illuminated by tiered chandeliers, also handcrafted by the miners. It is the world’s largest church made underground.
The underground mine is thronged by plenty of tourists all year. You can opt for the guided tour of 3 hours, letting you explore the 22 chambers. Now, salt mining activity is not operational but it went on for 700 years. Krakow was devastated by the barbarian Tartar invasions during the 13th century, and it was the Wieliczka Salt Mine that emerged as the main source of revenue generation for the local economy.