One of the most unusual places we visited on our recent trip to Poland was the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Try saying Wieliczka really quickly three times. The mine is about 10 miles southeast of Krakow and has been a working mine since at least the 11th century. The salt deposits are a result of an ancient sea that once covered this part of Poland millions of years ago and there is evidence of the discovery of salt here 6,000 years ago. The mine is a UNESCO world heritage site and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
We’re glad we visited the mine but it’s not something we would do again. Descending the 323 meter wooden staircase to reach the mine is one thing. But, after the tour, waiting to take a cramped, rickety 8-person mineworkers’ elevator to the surface was not a fun thing. We both decided we were glad we didn’t take up mining for a profession.
The mine shafts and open areas are all supported by wooden beams and you just hope this isn’t the day for an earthquake. Throughout the mine are statues carved out of salt, including those of Pope John Paul II, Copernicus and one of Germany’s favorite sons, Goethe.
One of the most amazing parts of the mine visit is the enormous Chapel of St. Kinga, carved out of the mine. Incredible biblical scenes, including the last supper, are carved out of salt walls. Another amazing site is the underground salt lake at the bottom of the mine. Anyone care for a swim?
After our visit, we gained a new appreciation for the expression, “back to the salt mines”. No thanks. Once was enough.