2019 Day 63 – Wieliczka

I’m guessing it’s an overdose of Disney that has the seven dwarfs song running through my head this morning. We’re off to Wieliczka, some 25 kilometres from Krakow, to visit its ancient salt mine….hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to work we go….⚒️⛏️Still active today, the Wieliczka mine has a mind boggling 700 year history.Extraordinarily, salt was once so valuable, that this mine’s production represented a third of Poland’s national revenue.It’s quite a hike down through all the levels – some 800 steps take us down through three levels, across 2km of chambers and tunnelled corridors, most of which was carved out by hand, over centuries.Almost everything we walk through is salt – the walls, the ceilings and the floors.The older sections are supported by timber framing, perfectly preserved, impregnated by salt, the modern sections have embedded rods, no doubt a fancy technical feat of some engineering program.We learn that this area once was an inland sea which evaporated, leaving behind vast salt deposits, some as sedimentary layers, others in pockets, likened to cherries in a pie. The tunnels we travel through connect the “cherries”.I think I prefer the romantic version: Poland’s Princess, on marrying an Austrian Prince, made a wish for Poland’s prosperity. She wished upon an Austrian salt mine, throwing her engagement ring into it to seal the deal. Legend has it that the Wieliczka mine was discovered shortly afterwards, and her engagement ring found in its first excavation.Periodically, we enter a chamber, once an active mine, now a showcase featuring salt sculptures – national heros, political figures and royalty.Many feature staged scenes depicting how the mines were worked over time. We learn of the importance of horses in the history of the mine – the last one finished work here as recently at 2003.They were incredibly valuable as work horses and well cared for, but it’s sad to hear that once down the mine, they never came back up again. The logistics of moving them were impossible.The most impressive of these chambers is the Chapel of St Kinga with alterpieces, sculptures and chandeliers, all made out of salt.The chapel could easily accommodate 200 hundred people – it’s enormous. Unlike the other chambers and corridors we’ve been in, the floor of this chamber is carved from one piece. The chamber is the work of three men working over a 70 year period.There’s also the Stazic Chamber, with 36 metre ceilings and there’s even a sanatorium underground treating respiratory illnesses and allergies. Apparently this very salty air is very good for you.We see three of (once) 40 chapels, used by miners for prayer. Works in these are very well preserved (the salt again) – this 17th century crucifix seems like it was finished yesterday.And it seems I’m not the only one with a Disney theme – there’s one chamber featuring the dwarves hard at work.The mine features at least two lakes, as salty as the Dead Sea. It’s in one of these that a group of sailors on a tour came to a tragic end when their boat capsized. They didn’t drown – not possible in these waters as you can’t physically get under the water – they suffocated under their boat as they couldn’t dive out from under it.It’s difficult to imagine water that dense.A couple of hours later, we resemble salt licks, albeit well informed salt licks – our guide was excellent. We could have extended the tour by an hour, visiting the salt museum, shopping, or staying for lunch in the cafe but we decide to head back up instead.I’ll miss the cool of the mine though, a lovely 14 – 16 degrees. Luckily we don’t have to climb up the 800 steps – there’s an old school lift to rattle its way back to the surface.Back on the surface, liquid refreshments and a bite to eat are called for – the salt really does infiltrate everything. I do wonder about the blood pressure of those who work here full time.And not begin one to miss out, I drag Himself into the village for a quick look around. There are yet more mines here and museum dedicated to the administration of the salt industry.The Wieliczka mine is well worth a visit – it’s a UNESCO site and Poland’s largest tourist attraction. With 700 years under its belt, no doubt it will still be giving up its salty goodness for centuries to come.