Every time I come to Krakow I tell my guests about the option to visit the Wieliczka salt mine, just outside of the city. Although no longer working, all the salt they get is from the water that they pump out, they started mining salt here in the 12th century. You can now visit the shafts and tunnels underneath the town of Wieliczka. I never went because I can be a bit claustrophobic, however every time people guaranteed me it would be fine, so I went this time.
I went with some of my passengers on an organized tour of the mine. First we descended 350 steps in a mine shaft to reach a depth of 64m. From there we walking through tunnels and occasionally descended some more until the maximum depth of 135m. In total there are 9 levels that reach a depth of 327 meters, although tourists don’t get to go that far. In the summer season they guide 6000 people a day through the mines, on average. During a tour you see about 1% of all the tunnels. Our guide explains about the conditions of working in the mine, the dangers of fumes and water. It gives a good impression about what life must have been like here, every day.
I had never heard of this mine, and yet it was on the very first Unesco list, that had only 12 sites in the world on it. It is quite an experience walking through the tunnels. I don’t know what I expected from a salt mine, but it was definitely something rough, which this wasn’t. The floor looked perfectly fine and all the walls were supported with white-painted beams. Along the way we saw sculptures and miners’ displays. Eventually we also reached the chapel of St Kinga. When our guide asked what we though the chandelier was made of, the answer was easy: salt. Everything here is made out of salt. Everything in the chapel was hand carved and the miners used to come here to say a prayer at the start of their day. Funnily enough this church is still in use, only that morning they’d had a mass there.
Besides visiting the salt mines and learning about its history, you are also working on your health. The air here is said to work miracles if you have a cold or asthma. Some people even come down here in special rooms for 7 hours just to inhale the air. I was happy we got to walk around. It was very busy in the mine, but it was a well oiled machine. Our guide Always made sure the guide in front of her was finished and had a story ready for us in case we had to wait. The only thing I’d rather have skipped was the way back up in a tiny overcrowded elevator. It was quick, but I finally felt like a miner, the wind rushing past us as we ascended. It was amazing to see the sun again. I don’t think mining is my kind of profession.