While planning for this trip, I asked Kaity’s polish friend’s mom for recommendations on must-see places in Kraków and the very first place she mentioned was the ‘Salt Mine’. I was initially startled! What could be so enticing about a salt mine?
The next couple of weeks was so hectic that I barely had the time to read or research about the places we wanted to see. The Krakow Shuttle offered a one day package tour of both Auschwitz and the Salt Mine. So that’s what we booked and hoped for the best!
The morning we spent at Auschwitz and Birkenau Nazi Concentration Camp was very intense. All that one sees and hears during those couple of hours will indefinitely grip the soul for the rest of life.
The rain stopped as we left Birkenau. The shuttle driver handed us a packed meal. If I remember right, it contained a box of delicious pasta, a cheese sandwich and small eats. It was more than filling! We needed all of it after all the walking we did that morning. And boy, little did we know how much walking awaited us at the Salt Mine!
The ‘Wieliczka’ Salt Mine is the world’s oldest Salt Mine in operation that was opened in the 13th century. Although commercial mining discontinued in 1996, the mine is known to have produced table salt continuously until 2007.
When arrived on location, we were spared of standing in long queues. I realised booking a proper tour had its perks. We were assigned a very sweet tour guide. She seasoned every piece of information with her humour and made our tour so much fun!
Down we began our spiral journey stomping on that wooden stairway, 350 stairs, 135 meters below the surface, only to reach the starting point of the tour!
As walked past the first heavy wooden door, the salty wonders began to unravel!
The initial displays, all made of salt, narrate the history of the salt mine – How it was first started in the 13th century, the process involved in mining over the centuries, how it evolved and how the miners actually carved out 300Kms of passageways reaching a depth of 327 meters!
EVERYTHING, except for the wooden walls and roof that connected one section to another… was S-A-L-T!
All tourists are given permission to lick the walls (even floors if one would like) and taste the salt for themselves!
The “Wieliczka” Salt Mine made it to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 and it attracts nearly 1.2 million people annually!
How could a salt mine draw so many people, you may wonder! Apart from the history and the extensive work that has gone in creating this salt mine, there are numerous ‘salty’ wonders carved out of rock salt by world renown artists!
The massive sculptures of notable people aside, the mine boasts of four chapels, which could actually be booked for weddings!
As mining was a very dangerous profession and the miners often had to spend days underground, the miners built these chapels to pray and seek divine courage and protection.
While the sculptures are stunning enough, I got to say, they had saved the best for the last. As you step down into the entrance of St. Kinga’s Chapel, you are guaranteed to be blown away!
This biggest underground church, made exclusively of rock salt, has regular worship conducted every Sunday! How amazing could that be – experiencing heaven 101 meters below the ground!
The walls of this chapel are adorned with intricate art sculpted by talented miners.
You will be surprised to know that the 3 Km Tourist Route is only 1% of the entire passageway constructed by the miners over centuries. Thankfully, we did not have to climb up 3 Kms to exit the mine! We were squeezed into an antique looking elevator that sky-rocket to the exit!
If you are an adventurous kind who prefers taking the road less travelled, you may want to consider taking the Miner’s Route. You will be geared with a protective overall, helmet and mining equipment to experience mining for real with professional miners.
Curious travellers who fancy some mystery and thrill can explore the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine in dense darkness and deep silence with miner’s lamp in hand by choosing the Mysteries of the Wieliczka Mine Route.
For more details about the”Wieliczka” Salt Mine, visit their official website – https://www.kopalnia.pl/
On the whole, experiencing Auschwitz and the Wieliczka was a mixed experience – the former distressing and latter awe-inspiring! Both experiences we will long cherish!
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