… Tuesday and my last full day in Kraków. A bit of an early start because the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine was on the program, and the transport was picking me up at the hotel 9.30pm. It was a sunny and frosty morning.
Transport spot on time and we were about 12 people in the transit bus, I had the seat beside the driver that didn’t speak a word of English. *smile
It is about a 30 min drive to get to the mine. There a guide took over two transport and she gave us all the basic information, after that, they devived us up in groups depending on the language. We became 19 in our group, nice number .. people from all over the world. Then our mine guide took over, his name was Domenic. Everything was so well organized.
We started off with climbing down 350 steps at the beginning take you down into the mine. There are 800 steps to climb in a total on the tourist route. There is 3 different tours; tourist, miner, and pilgrims.
I glad I had my ECO sneaker on. The tour took about 3 hours. There are 20 chambers to visit – the Chapel of St. King is the most impressive one. The tourist route goes 134 meters under the ground.
The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 meters and is over 287 kilometers (178 mi) long. The salt mine is not in production today, but there are still miners working down under – but only for maintenance work.
Magnificent chambers chiseled out in rock salt. Stunning underground saline lakes, majestic timber constructions and unique statues sculpted in salt. The Tourist Route, the main visiting route of the mine has been visited by 41,500,000 tourists from around the whole world in search of adventures.
You have to buy a permit for taking photos below, but that you can buy on-route, cost PLN10/€2.40/£2.15/$2.85/23.50SEK.
Loads of walking involved, so it’s not an adventure for the faith hearted. I thought as I walked along the shafts – no way I’m going to climb up all those stairs back up again, I would have died!! There are disable (lifts) access to some areas of the mine – as the major chapel.
Learned about the legend about Princess Kinga and how she brought the salt treasure to Polish land. There is a legend about Princess Kinga, associated with the Wieliczka mine. The Hungarian princess was about to be married to Bolesław V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, she asked her father, Béla IV of Hungary, for a lump of salt, since salt was prizeworthy in Poland. Her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Bolesław in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess’s ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital.
We visit a couple of smaller chapels on the route. What I found most amazing was that the miners prayed twice per day, because they never knew the outcome of their day and the moved their chapels with them the future down they dug in the mine.
The story about the horses that worked down under, that hardly saw daylight during their lives, was another story that I found very amazing. It was too complicated to bring the horses back up, so they had stables down under. There were 100 horses utilized during mining operations (cut to 4 after WWII.)
They often spent their entire lives underground. However, they were treated like royalty, and even had specific workers dedicated to their health and well being. If a horse was injured or mis-kept, there were dire consequences for the workers in charge. The last horse used was as recent as 2002.
We had a moment for reflection hearing the music of Chopin accompanying a light and sound spectacle on the shores of one of the saline lakes. There are two lakes, at least what we were shown.
Our guide told us that people used to be able to take a (very short) boat ride through the tunnel to get to this lake, while an orchestra played music on the bank of the lake. These trips were discontinued after a tragic accident involving a group of soldiers in WWI. The soldiers stood up in their boat to dance to the music, and the boat capsized. The salt water of the lake is such that people float so they couldn’t drown, but they also couldn’t get out from under the capsized boat, so they suffocated. So no ferry ride for us.
The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as “the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland”. In 1978 it was placed on the original UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites.
Of course, the highlight of the tour was the magnificent chapel of Chapel of St. King, absolutely stunningly beautiful – the crown jewel of the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine and the miners’ pride. The Chapel of St. Kinga is located 101 meters underground, its dimensions are of 31 x 15 m, and its floor area is of 465 m2. The chapel can hold up 400 people. It is used for Holy Mass, a wedding, a classical or religious music concerts.
The carvings (decorations) were made by miners, they worked one at the time and none of them were any artists, the hand-carved floor is in salt. Yes. everything is out of salt, even the crystals in the 5 impressive chandeliers. Even the massive stairs leading down the chapel. Yes, it was so impressive and stunningly beautiful.
Tomasz Markowski who sculpted the high altar, the most important part of the chapel, the miner that became an artist afterward.
The world’s biggest church built underground is located at the depth of 101 meters.
A got in company with a very nice young man from our group .. and he is Swedish, a neighbor with good friends of mine and are working for Stena Line. The world is small 110 meters underground too. And I never got his name.
This experience, adventure, and sore feet were well worth the PLN 150/€36/£32/$43/354SEK paid online with “See Krakow”. A well-organized tour operator and very efficient.
And the great news was that there was a lift back up – even if it was very crowded. I would have liked to be stuck on that lift ride. Like sardines, we were going up 110 meters.
Back in Kraków … I went straight to look for a place in the old Jewish Quarters for some lunch and I found nice little “orange” cafe, “Tajemniczy Ogród“ (Secret Garden) on plac Nowy . Enjoyed just to sit down, fantastic pasta with chicken and fresh mushrooms and the most moreish apple cake. Life felt VERY there and then. A place I warmly recommend.
And in the evening was I experience the best dining adventure ever at “Nota_Resto by Tomasz Leśniak”. (here is the link for the dining experience: my taste buds were jumping of joy)
What a fantastic finishing to the great meeting with Kraków. So a fabulous day both down-under and above … and I have plus all my memories, some rock salt in a beautiful burlap sack.
“The salt is to the food, what soul is to the body.”