800 steps and 800 years

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

800 steps and 800 years

  |   Articles, UNESCO   |   35 Comments

This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

In twelve steps, they say you can cure alcoholism. To get to the bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, it takes 810. And in this case, it’s an intoxicating experience that will leave your head spinning.

This is no ordinary mine, no warren of small dark tunnels and dangerous industrial pitfalls. This is a small city, an art gallery, a place of work and a house of worship… and it’s all carved out of salt.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

Since work stopped at the Wieliczka Salt Mine in 1996, it has become one of Poland’s most popular tourist attractions and one of the country’s greatest sources of pride. But for the hundreds of years before it was completely opened to the public it was a driving force in the local economy and one of the main employers of the region.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

Life in the mine

For the miners who worked underground, the tunnels and caverns were a second home and they took great pride in treating it as such. From the very start of operations in the 13th century, they began to decorate the mine with statues. Carved out of salt, the statues they created gave life and spiritual meaning to the catacombs. Pockets that the workers mined became rooms and many of those rooms became chapels. Religious iconography and altars gave them places to ask for guidance and help. When you spend so many hours a day so far underneath the ground, it’s important to have a direct line to the heavens.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

The largest of the chapels took three men the course of 67 years to decorate, chiselling and sculpting artwork from the salt. Today it has large chandeliers hanging from the roof and can be used for weddings and other ceremonies.

In fact, many of the rooms in the Wieliczka Salt Mine can be used today. There are function rooms, conference facilities, restaurants and bars that are available for hire. The city underground may not be a working mine anymore but it still has life.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

Visiting Wieliczka

It’s also full of tourists on the day I visit. You can only access the mine as part of a guided tour and although it takes about two and a half hours it’s just a tiny part of the complex that you’ll see.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

“There are two thousand chambers in the mine”, our guide tells us. That’s hard to imagine.

“You are only seeing one per cent on our tour.” That’s hard to believe.

“To see it all would take more than seven weeks.” That’s hard to walk!

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

In the end I walked 2.5 kilometres – down staircases, through small chambers, into cavernous halls, past chapels, around lakes and finally into a tiny elevator that carried us back up to the top in seconds. It was nice to see daylight again although I’d almost forgotten how far I was underground. I suppose that was the whole point of the wonderland the miners built over all those generations.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, poland, things near krakow, what to do near cracow

UNESCO world heritage siteThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

You can find out more information here the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Time Travel Turtle travelled to Poland as a guest of the Polish National Tourist Office but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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35 Comments
  • Jeremy Branham | Apr 27, 2012 at 7:08 am

    When I was in Poland a few years ago, I heard about this place but never had a chance to go. Reminds me of the Karst caves in Slovenia (even though this one is about salt). Very interesting though. I can’t believe how big it is!
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Walking among the giants: Muir Woods National MonumentMy Profile

    • Turtle | Apr 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Oh, that’s a pity you didn’t get there. It’s quite amazing. I hadn’t heard of the Karst Caves but if it’s anything like this mine then I’m definitely going to try to get along there myself now!

  • The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) | Apr 27, 2012 at 10:16 am

    How cool that they have chapels down there. Looks like a fun place to see!
    The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) recently posted..Iglesias de Arequipa: A photo essayMy Profile

    • Turtle | Apr 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Some of the chapels are huge! It’s a really fun place to visit – you never quite know what to expect in the next room but it always surprises.

  • Caitlin | Apr 27, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Turtle, that’s amazing! Like a terrifying underground counterpoint to the mental Tennessee treehouse.

    I hope you resisted the urge to lick it.

    • Turtle | Apr 27, 2012 at 7:12 pm

      I hadn’t thought about the parallels with the treehouse but they’re definitely there. Imagine the treehouse was on top of the mine and there was an elevator between them. Blow. Your Mind!

      (And, no, I couldn’t resist)

  • tinafreysd | Apr 27, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    I want to visit this place sounds really good kind..Thanks for sharing with us..

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 28, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      My pleasure. It’s a fascinating place!

    • Coco | Jun 15, 2012 at 8:23 am

      This is really great place. I was 14 years old when I veiitsd it and it still engraved in my mind. One of the most impressive things I have seen in Poland.Tanks for posting it, Lauren.

  • Angela | Apr 27, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Very fascinating. Working in a mine is incredibly hard, my parents visited years ago the coal mines in France where my grandfather used to work, some 1000mt underground, breathing dangeours dust all the time and with the constant danger of an accident or a collapse. I was less than 18 so I wasn’t allowed, but they came up completely dirty, I can only imagine my grandfather going down there every day.
    Angela recently posted..Travel beyond tourism, visiting Palestinian refugee camp Bourj El Shamali in LebanonMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      Oh, wow. I can only imagine how much more it would mean to visit a mine when you have a family history like that. It’s hard to know what it was like for the workers but at least in this case they seem to have made the best of it that they could.

  • Sophie | Apr 28, 2012 at 2:24 am

    I’ve yet to see the Wieliczka salt mines. Next time in Krakow… Really good photos!
    Sophie recently posted..Top 5 Camping Survival EssentialsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      You should definitely put it on the list of places to go to. It was quite an experience. Do you get to Krakow often?

  • Ekua | Apr 29, 2012 at 8:39 am

    So cool, thanks for sharing this!
    Ekua recently posted..Photo Essay: The Unique Sculpture Art of PragueMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 30, 2012 at 9:20 pm

      My pleasure. It was such a cool place – how could I not want to share it with everyone!

  • Franco | Apr 29, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I just love your blog. You’re so talented.
    Franco recently posted..The Toronto GaybourhoodMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm

      Ha ha… thanks Franco. You still in BA?

  • crazy sexy fun traveler | Apr 30, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Really cool photos and the description of the mine ;)
    crazy sexy fun traveler recently posted..ROME GELATOSMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 30, 2012 at 9:22 pm

      It’s hard not to take cool photos there. Everything is so breath-taking!

  • Emrah | May 6, 2012 at 4:23 am

    As imagined, a nice trip. I suggesting too ”Basilica Zystern” in Istanbul/Turkey. Absolutely should see
    Emrah recently posted..Referans SitelerimizdenMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 7, 2012 at 4:36 am

      Oh, wow – thanks for the tip! I’ll definitely check it out if (when) I get to Turkey…

      • Emrah | May 7, 2012 at 6:09 am

        You will not regret. Istanbul has various Historical heritage. You can find traces of Roman and Ottoman culture. So, Good one choose.

  • Wanderplex | May 10, 2012 at 2:16 am

    This is really just breathtaking… I mean, salt!!!! Wow. I can’t imagine that it’s just such a normal part of life for the locals (hiring a conference room?!).
    Wanderplex recently posted..To gondola or not to gondola?My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      That’s the thing that is so amazing. It’s stunning enough just to look at but then you think about how it’s all made out of salt — Awesome!

  • What’s new ’round the web: week of 05/11/12 | Wanderplex | Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration for World Travel | May 11, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    […] If you haven’t seen pictures of it before, you’ll be blown away by these images of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland. Located deep underground, the former salt mine has been converted into a veritable […]

  • Sarah @ Green Global Travel | Jun 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    That looks like an absolutely amazing site to see. That’s the first time I’d heard of it. Is there only one entrance?
    Sarah @ Green Global Travel recently posted..ENDANGERED SPECIES SPOTLIGHT: Greater Bamboo LemurMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 12, 2012 at 11:32 am

      There’s only one main entrance that they use these days. But it stretches for kilometres in each direction so there must be other ways in and out.

  • Rixco | Jun 15, 2012 at 2:14 am

    I’d love to visit Poland someday. I’m allcatuy adding this on my bucket list. Number 24 Visit Poland. How I envy you. I have always been fascinated by Polish traditions and culture, not to mention the friendly people and breath-taking places. And the food!!! I’ve always wondered how they taste like what’s the pink food? How does it taste? sigh**Marvin

  • Kurt | Jun 19, 2012 at 2:51 am

    It’s amazing at the complex structures that civilizations could form, even before the modern machine age. The more discoveries that are made the more amazing stuff seems to pop up around the world.
    Kurt recently posted..Remembering My Eastern European ExcursionsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 20, 2012 at 6:10 am

      I honestly don’t know how they could create something like this with the old tools they must have been using. You’re right – it does make it even more impressive!

  • steve | Dec 9, 2012 at 8:40 am

    what camera did you use? excellent pictures considering light conditions.

    • Michael Turtle | Dec 11, 2012 at 1:04 am

      Thanks Steve. I don’t consider myself to be much of a photographer. I use a Canon 600D with the kit lens… and it’s normally on automatic too! :)

  • Mel Brackstone | Jan 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I just saw a pic of the Salina Turda yesterday for the first time, and now I see a salt mine from you too! So impressive! I have been enjoying your travel blogs!

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks, Mel! The salt mine is a really impressive place. I hope you get a chance to see it for yourself one day!

  • Irina | Jul 9, 2013 at 10:38 am

    What a cool place to visit! I wonder how they manage to keep the fresh air flowing, considering that many more people go there on the daily basis.
    Irina recently posted..The Future Is Evergreen In Toronto My Profile

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