I recently travelled to Poland for a week and visited some beautiful cities and places of interest. Poland has a lot of history and heritage and I will be writing few posts about the places I visited.
In this post I am sharing my experience of traveling to the Wieliczka [veel-eech-kah] Salt Mine of Krakow. The salt mine of Wieliczka is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is around 15 kms from Krakow and can be reached within 20 minutes from the city centre of Krakow. There are tour buses or public transport from Krakow to reach Wieliczka.
The history of the salt mine starts from 13.6 billion years ago when the Wieliczka salt deposits formed. You’ll see this history documented on the walls as you walk thought the visitor route of the mine.
The visiter’s route within the mine includes beautiful chambers and galleries, channels and lakes. It consists of 22 chambers connected by galleries, covering circa 2 kms, from Floor Level I at 64 m deep to Floor Level III at 135 m deep.
To reach the 1st level down, you have had to walk down 380 steps of wooden stairs and the floors are marked with ascending numbers from 1 to 52 as you walk down.
Once you reach the 1st level of the mine, your friendly guide will walk you through the various exhibits. The flow of visitors is controlled quite efficiently by the salt mine tour guides, so there is no overcrowding in front of any of the exhibits.
These exhibits include the miners working and living conditions. There are exhibits to show how horses were used to transport the salt, how rock-salt was discovered in Poland, how fire destroyed the timber structures and so on.
There are also sculptures throughout the mine, carved out of salt of course, including that of Copernicus, St. John Paul II, Jozef Pilsudski, King Kazimierz and many more.
You’ll see how the walls and roof of the mine are held in place using tree trunks. You can touch the salts on the walls and roof as you walk along the mine. The train tracks carrying salt to ground level are visible on the floor as you walk along.
The timbers holding the mine wall and roof are painted in white colour and there is a reason for this. In old days, there was no electricity within the mines and hence lamps were lit across the pathways. To prevent the timbers from burning from the lamp heat, a special ingredient was added to the paint which made the timbers fire proof!
The walk inside the mine is through various caverns. There are also subterranean lakes in the mine and you can float on these as you would on the Dead Sea.
The mine is still in working condition and a visit to this place is worth it’s salt. There are cafes, shops and restrooms at the underground levels. And you also get a working wifi below ground!
The biggest highlight of the mine is St Kinga’s Chapel. As you walk down the mine, you’ll reach a viewing platform and from there as you look down, you’ll be mesmerised with what has been created below the ground inside a salt mine with such creativity, patience and artistry.
The chapel itself is worth the visit the salt mine. Take time to look at the sculptures around you. The biggest draw is the relief of the Last Supper carved on the salt wall. The detail of the carving is just absolutely mind-blowing. When you are standing facing the chapel, the Last Supper relief is on the left. If you look at this closely from the side and you’ll see how intricately the carving has been done on about 6 inches layer of the salt wall.
The souvenir shop at the underground levels (there is also one at the ground level as you walk out of the mine) has all sorts of salt products and also guide books, DVDs and Blu-ray discs on the history of the salt mine.
- If you have claustrophobia or difficulty in walking, this is not the place to visit.
- There are a total of 800 steps to walk down to reach the 3rd level of the mines. The 1st level is reached after 350 steps so it is best to wear comfortable shoes.
- The way up to the ground is by beamed up by a lift.
- W..salt mines can be visited as an afternoon or morning tour from Krakow.
- The mines are open to children of all ages but due to huge number of stairs in the mines, using strollers is not an option.
- To take photos inside the mines, you’ll need to buy a photo permit of 10 PLN.
- Wieliczka is a working mine, so some areas out of reach.
- Temperature underground ranges between 14° and 16°C, so it is better to carry warm clothings
- There is a museum at the end of the walking tour of the mine, but you can skip this
- You can either book a tour locally from Krakow or travel to the salt mines using public transport from Krakow.
- If you are more adventurous you can book the Miner’s route tour, wearing overalls and helmets.
- You can checkout a picture of the salt mine here and also find more information about the mine.
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You may like my other Travel story on Unesco World Heritage site: Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland