Wieliczka is a large salt mine in Southern Poland, near Cracow and it is one of the first sites on UNESCO’s World’s Heritage original list and it became a world heritage in 1978, It’s a place of magic, because of it’s beauty, because of it’s long history and magic and because of all the salt that is hidden beneath the surface. And let’s not forget the legends.
I visited Wieliczka several times. First as a kid, maybe in school, then with my scout group, the following times with visitors and friends from the US and Sweden. Every reason is a good reason. I enjoy the place very much, the long corridors, the salt in the air the old and new salt statues and the feeling of just being surrounded by salt.
The legend tells a story of a Polish saint, Kinga, that dropped her ring in a salt mine in Hungary and it showed up near Cracow with enormous amounts of salt. Whether there is a salty passage connecting Poland and Hungary, I doubt. Some people say that it’s because of the ocean that was here millions of years ago. I’m not sure, it must have been a very local ocean.
The fact is that there is plenty of salt in Wieliczka. The mine opened already in 13th century and is still active. It’s 327 meters deep and it has over 300 km of tunnels, some underground lakes and… millions of tourists every year.
During my last visit to Poland (read about Cracow in a different post) I, once again decided to go to Wieliczka. I was a little worried, since it rained very heavy the previous day. That day we went on another tour in the area, the Eagle nest tour. The Eagle nests are medieval castles in an area, built on hills with view of the nearby land. The castles date mostly to the 14th century, and were constructed by the order of King of Poland Kazimierz the Great. They have been named the “Eagles’ Nests” as most of them are located on large, tall rocks of the Polish Jura Chain featuring many limestone cliffs and valleys below. They were built along the 14th century Polish border with the province of Silesia. The Trail of the Eagles’ Nests is considered one of the best tourist trails in Poland, marked as No. 1 on the official list of most popular trails in the country. It encompasses all 25 castles and watchtowers, and is 163 km long (the bicycle trail is 188 km long). Some are still beautiful castles, some are ruins, but all are quite impressive. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles Nest Trail end up on the world heritage list one day. Then I will write another post.
We saw five or six castles, in heavy rain, unable to see the road that we were driving on. It was exciting, just to see that the roads turned into rivers. The following day it was time for Wieliczka and I wondered if the mine was flooded as well. But it survived. And when you are under the surface, exploring the mine, it doesn’t really matter whether it it rains or not.
The guides in Wieliczka are special, at least the ones I’ve met. The last time I visited the place I was in a group of an old gentleman with huge bunch of humor. As the tour started he said that everyone can collect a gift as the tour starts, as long as the person promises to carry it all the way. Two hours up and down the stairs, walk and walk in the corridors. No problem, we thought, until he said that the gift is 10 kilos of salt. Maybe not. The last time the guide was a cynical communist-hater, which he pointed out quite often.
Well, walking in the mine was interesting. First we started with going down about 400 stairs. Maybe more. Then we walked in the different corridors, watching salt everywhere. Some places were covered with salt crystals, other were just plain salt. We were allowed to taste the wall and it tasted… salt.
There were different statues made of salt, a salty lake and a ballroom. There was also a chapel made of salt, also with copies of paintings, this time carved out of salt . For example “The last supper”. There was a statue of Pope, old presidents or just a plain workers, dwarves and saints. The works were amazing and beautiful. Even chandeliers were made of salt.
The tour took a few hours. It was interesting and good. If you want to get in without waiting in a very long line to buy a ticket, you can buy a tour of the mine directly in an agency in Cracow. It costs a little more, but I think it’s worth it.
A link to the site: Wieliczka.
And my grade? It’s five, for sure.