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Week 3: Wieliczka Salt Mines

Updated: Oct 13, 2019

September 23rd, 2018


All aboard! It's 10:45 am and some of us are still trying to find the ticket hall in the train station. 10:47 am. We find it and are alerted that our train will not leave until 11:02 am.

The route there was about twenty to thirty minutes and it was scenic. We were passing rural lands where the grasses grew high and green, the stone houses were spaced out, and the gardens looked well kempt. (Thank you Grandma and Grandpa for the heads up on this detail!)

The train itself was very nice. Comfortable chairs. Smooth locomotion. The signs for each stop were unambiguous. Low volume noise level. Whether train or tram, this quietness on public transportation is something I enjoy. People sit and listen to the wind hitting the train (or they listen to loud, whispering Americans, in this case) and they watch the stoic trees and buildings pass by. People have an indifferent appearance here which has been a hard adjustment for me. In America, we are all smiles to see anyone, even people we do not know.

Our ride came to an end, and we walked through the town of Wieliczka to the salt mine entrance. It was 11:30am and we had some waiting to do for our 12:00pm tour.

The tour guide was very kind and spoke English. To start the exploration, our tour group of 40 climbed down 54 flights of stairs (each flight about 2.4 meters or 8 feet tall). That's about 131.6 meters (432 feet).

About a quarter of the way down, the people behind our API group disappeared. We had no idea where they could had gone--the only ways out were up or down. So we reach the bottom and walk into a cave-live room light by lamps; our tour guide is counting us as we exit the stairs and she reaches 20...and starts panicking. Half of the group is gone! She asks the person behind me "Where did they go?! Oh my goodness, I'm supposed to have 40. I have never lost this many and we only went down the stairs!" While she went to report to her manager, the second half of our group finally joined us. Evidently an elderly lady in our group who had trouble breathing with rigorous exertion had held up the rest of the group. Our tour guide returned and was relieved. After one more visit with her manager, we started our tour. Below are photos from the first half.

Long corduroys with smooth, glossy salt and wooden beams for tunnel stability led us to exhibitions of many important people and chambers:

Janowice Chamber

The Janowice chamber was made before 1642 in Wieliczka Salt Mine. Mieczysław Kluzek sculpted these salt statues to illustrate the legend of Hungarian Princess Kinga and Krakow Prince Bolesław V the Chaste' marriage. As dowry, Princess Kinga asked her father for a brick of salt due to its high value, and because Poland, at the time, did not have much salt.

She received a salt mine in Maramureș. Kinga had a hunch and she cast her engagement ring from Bolesław into the Hungarmine. Following her wedding in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a well in Wieliczka. However, the miners hit an impenetrable rock. Salt. When a chunk was lifted out, the princess's ring was found in it causing Kinga to become the patron saint of salt miners in the Polish capital.

It's interesting. Salt at that time was like gold to us today, but better. It was used not only as currency, but as a food preserver. Imagine having to decide between preserving the week's meal or buying next week's food. Miners and Roman soldiers who worked the hardest were known to be "worth their salt". Our word salary originates from the Latin salarium, or salt wages.

King Casimir the Great (Bottom right)

*The plac behind the monument reads: In tribute to the creator of the statute of the Salt Salt Mines in Krakow in the 600th anniversary.

Famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus' uncle, Lucas Watzenrode, the bishop of Warmia, enabled Copernicus to climb the ranks of the Catholic church administration, serving as the administrator of Warmia Chapter’s property. As an administrator of the castle in Olsztyn he led the defense against the attack of the Teutonic Knights in 1520.

About fifteen minutes in, our tour guide told us to run our hand along the wall and then taste it. A light and pleasant saline taste filled the mouth. Later, I did this...

When we got to the main chamber, I became an official photographer. No larger, flashy cameras can take pictures during or past this point unless the person has a badge, so I bought one for 10 zł. You can check out my Wieliczka albums on Facebook for the names of the chambers that we traveled.