Ever since I heard about the Wieliczka Salt Mine from my friend Ron, I have wanted to visit it. I am fascinated by mines and Wieliczka Salt Mine is definitely the most unique mine I’ve seen.
While preparing to visit the mine, I reviewed its website and was surprised to find there are a variety of tours from which to choose. I ruled out the 30-minute Graduation Tower visit that includes breathing a brine mist above ground as well as the Pilgrim Tour that concentrates on praying throughout the 2.5-hour mine tour.
This left me with two options: the Tourist Route or the Miners’ Route. The Tourist Route is the one most people take. It begins at the Danilowicz Shaft and leads visitors through 20 chambers over 3 km and includes the magnificent, underground Chapel of St. Kinga.
The Miners’ Route is a more active route. Visitors get a glimpse into real mining in the Regis Mine Shaft as they don helmets with mining lamps and measure the concentration of methane, dig and transport salt and explore unknown chambers. Unfortunately, however, the tour skips the underground Chapel of St. Kinga.
I was torn as I wanted to see the chapel, but feeling remotely like a miner would be pretty cool to me. I eventually settled on the Tourist Route in English and purchased my ticket online for 89PLN or $24.
To get there, I took Uber but Taxify, the eastern European version of Uber is the more popular service. I recommend downloading the Taxify app for better rates. Or for a cheaper way, the 304 bus stops very close to the salt mine entrance. It is also possible to purchase a tour from many hotels in Krakow which includes transportation and a guide at the salt mines. Or find one at Get Your Guide.
I selected the first tour time at 9am. On this winter day, there was hardly a sole around. I checked in at the online ticket office to receive my ticket and entered the English-speaking line in front of the mine entrance. I was the only individual in line before a small tour group of eight or so joined me.
Soon we were escorted inside which was far warmer than outside on this winter day (60⁰ vs 30⁰). We put on our audio device and followed our tour guide down 300 stairs to the first level which is 64 meters deep. Here we began our 3km tour through 20 chambers which is only 1% of the mine! It would take seven months to tour the whole mine.
The chambers were connected by wooded hallways with big heavy doors. The first door had to be closed before the second door was opened due to the ventilation system in place.
Each chamber featured a different theme. I felt like I was in an amusement park rather than a mine which a little disappointing to me. I found out later that the Chapel of St. Kinga is open to the public for mass on Sundays. If I had to do it over again, I would have attended mass in the chapel and gone on the Miners’ Tour thereafter.
Regardless, I was in the Wieliczka Salt Mine and after passing by examples of old mining ropes and equipment, we entered a chamber featuring figurines carved in salt depicting the Legend of Princess Kinga.
Legend of Princess Kinga
Legend has it that Kinga, a young girl in Hungary, received an engagement ring from Duke Boleslaw of Poland. Her dowry from her father was to include jewels, but the young girl wanted to bring something to Poland that helped the people instead. She decided on rock salt since Poland didn’t have any mines and salt was such an expensive and important commodity.
Her father granted her wish and brought her to the largest Hungarian salt mine in Maramures. Of course, Kinga couldn’t transport the mine to Poland, so she threw her engagement ring down the shaft and prayed to God.
Soon she began her travels to Poland with several Hungarian miners. Upon approaching Krakow, she asked the miners to dig for salt. Not only did they find a lump of salt, when they broke it open they found her engagement ring.
Princess Kinga (now a saint) is credited for bringing salt and prosperity to Poland!
We continued through the Wieliczka Salt Mine and into different chambers while learning facts about salt and the mining process. Miners had to burn the collected gases out of the mine which sometimes caused explosions. They created a water system that kept the mine from flooding. Though a dangerous job, it was considered a very good one as they were paid well, were fed lunch, and had their own private hospital.
27 million tons of salt have been removed from Wieliczka Salt Mine since 1280. The salt was removed in 1 -on cylinders. It was so heavy that they began using horses to operate winches to lift the salt out of the mine. Sixty horses lived in the mine from the 15th century to 2002.
The pure salt was extremely valuable. Only the wealthy could afford it and a 1-ton cylinder of salt could buy a village. 33% of Poland’s wealth came from the mine.
Mining stopped at the Wieliczka Salt Mine in 1996 because there is no more salt left, at least not in large quantities! I suppose there is at least some as we were encouraged to lick the cauliflower looking salt as we walked by it. Apparently, it is safe because salt kills germs. In addition, the Wieliczka Salt Mine sold all sorts of salt products from both its underground and above grounds stores including cooking salts, bath salts, and salt crucifixes.
While the mining has stopped, the Wieliczka Salt Mine still employs 300 miners who test for gases, who ensure safe processes for visitors, and who carve figurines. In fact, one chamber we entered included a scene of the seven dwarves, and the miners carved an extra figure that is a small woman representing the one woman miner of the 300.
The largest chamber we visited had a chandelier with 350 candles. And a few others included underground lakes. One shallow lake used to include an unsupervised boat ride, but rowdy soldiers capsized the boat. While they could swim, they ended up playing in the shallow waters and died from lack of oxygen.
Chapel of St. Kinga
Multiple chambers included small chapels, but of course the biggest draw is the Chapel of St. Kinga which took 67 years to complete. Three miners worked separately on the chapel over the years. The chapel is 101 meters below ground. It’s tile-like floor is made of salt as are the chandeliers! The chapel includes several carvings including one of Pope John Paul II that weighs six tons.
The chapel holds 30 weddings a year as well as some classical music concerts. What a fascinating place! It was definitely the most unique church I have ever been in and as I mentioned previously why I wanted to visit Wieliczka Salt Mine.
We ended our tour in another chamber with shops and a balcony from which someone skydived. There has also been a hot air balloon ride in this chamber. To exit the Wieliczka Salt Mine we had to walk through the underground cafeteria and a banquet hall. With the ticket, we had the option to go to the museum and to watch a movie, but I had seen enough and joined the rest of the group in a small elevator that took us to the surface. Thankfully we didn’t have to walk up the 300 stairs we came down! ETB
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