The salt mine, not far from Kraków, looks back on a long mining tradition. Salt has been mined there since the 11th century. The center of the mine is the Kunigunden Chapel, in which miners have carved figures, reliefs and an altar directly into the salt for centuries.
Wieliczka Salt Mine: facts
|Official title:||Wieliczka Salt Mine|
|Cultural monument:||Since the 13th century salt has been mined on nine main brines down to a depth of 315 m, over 2100 chambers and tunnels; accessible between 64 and 135 m; At a depth of 130 m there is a saltworks museum, at 211 m a spa center for the treatment of respiratory diseases|
|Location:||Wieliczka, southeast of Krakow|
|Meaning:||a milestone in the history of salt mining|
Wieliczka Salt Mine: history
|1119||documented mention of »Magnum Sol« (old Polish »Wielika Sol«)|
|1290||according to legend, after the start of salt mining|
|14th century||60 Saxon miners dig new shafts|
|1897-1927||Nicolaus Copernicus sculpted from salt with the dimensions 57x17x12 m|
|1950||partial conversion to a museum and visitor mine|
|1996||Salt deposits almost depleted|
The miners still wish for “good luck” today when they enter the shaft, but no longer in order to mine “white gold” in large quantities, but on a modest scale, which is used as bath salt. Today they no longer sit in a saddle made of raffia and then dash down on a rope as thick as an arm as a “hanged man”. Instead, they climb into a conveyor cage and slide up to 300 meters deep into the “Kingdom of Darkness” down.
Since its founding in the 12th century, the salt mine has repeatedly attracted travelers and famous guests from all over the world. Like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Frédéric Chopin, Kaiser Wilhelm I or Tsar Alexander I, Nicolaus Copernicus allowed himself to be guided through the labyrinth of corridors and chambers, grottos and chapels, vaults and cathedrals. The engineers of the salt mine even built a narrow-gauge railway for His Majesty Emperor Franz Josef I from the House of Habsburg. The emperor padded enthusiastically in a purple-colored padded cart through the legends of the gnomes and wighties carved out of salt, stopped at the shores of the underground lakes and in one of the temple vaults with huge pillars of salt. When he returned to Vienna, he wrote, still very enthusiastic about his underground adventure.
Today’s visitors to the 700-year-old salt mine climb 394 wooden steps down to Sole I and start their two-kilometer path through the salt mine here. Even if there are no more tallow twinkles or oil lamps flickering on the walls to bring light into the eternal darkness, the twilight caused by modern lightbulbs also looks as if time had stood still centuries ago. The figures that the miners knocked out of the salt after their shift seem to have frozen only temporarily in salt. Even the altar figures, Mary and Joseph and the crucified Jesus, seem to rub their stiff limbs at the first ray of sunshine that should hit them down here, in order to escape the underworld as quickly as possible.
The Hungarian Princess Kinga, frozen in salt, is particularly impressive; at the age of twelve she was married to the then 19-year-old Polish Duke Boleslaw the Shameful. Allegedly, according to a legend, she asked her father to give her a salt mine instead of the usual dowry of crown jewels and valuable robes. To confirm her wish, she threw her engagement ring into a Hungarian salt mine. After the wedding celebrations in Poland, according to topb2bwebsites, she asked the astonished residents of Wieliczka to dig a shaft. Instead of running into water, the “white gold” and – oh wonder – Kinga’s engagement ring, which was thrown into the salt mine in Hungary, were unearthed.
The miracle-working princess is not only immortalized in salt, one of the largest chambers in the salt mine is dedicated to her: a “cathedral” in shimmering emerald white and gray. Artfully crafted crystal chandeliers from salt hang from the ceiling, an imposing altar rises from the front, the walls are adorned with frescoes and bas-reliefs dealing with biblical themes. But it is only when the sounds of Beethoven or Chopin swing through the Salt Cathedral that the underground world awakens to truly “divine” beauty. The tradition of salt sculptures, chapels and cathedrals underground is owed to “Grim Reaper”, who was a daily companion of the miners, especially in the Middle Ages and early modern times. The Steiger and Hauer cared for their colleagues who had had an accident, the graves and gas burners to build small wooden chapels. When one of these chapels caught fire in 1697, a royal edict forbade “devotion in wood”. And so the miners from Wieliczka became “sculptors in salt” at the same time.