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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
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.
If you’re interested in visiting, there are some great tours. I would recommend one of these ones:
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.
37 thoughts on “800 steps and 800 years”
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!
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!
How cool that they have chapels down there. Looks like a fun place to see!
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.
Turtle, that’s amazing! Like a terrifying underground counterpoint to the mental Tennessee treehouse.
I hope you resisted the urge to lick it.
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)
I want to visit this place sounds really good kind..Thanks for sharing with us..
My pleasure. It’s a fascinating place!
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.
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.
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.
I’ve yet to see the Wieliczka salt mines. Next time in Krakow… Really good photos!
You should definitely put it on the list of places to go to. It was quite an experience. Do you get to Krakow often?
So cool, thanks for sharing this!
My pleasure. It was such a cool place – how could I not want to share it with everyone!
I just love your blog. You’re so talented.
Ha ha… thanks Franco. You still in BA?
Really cool photos and the description of the mine 😉
It’s hard not to take cool photos there. Everything is so breath-taking!
As imagined, a nice trip. I suggesting too ”Basilica Zystern” in Istanbul/Turkey. Absolutely should see
Oh, wow – thanks for the tip! I’ll definitely check it out if (when) I get to Turkey…
You will not regret. Istanbul has various Historical heritage. You can find traces of Roman and Ottoman culture. So, Good one choose.
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?!).
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!
That looks like an absolutely amazing site to see. That’s the first time I’d heard of it. Is there only one entrance?
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.
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
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.
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!
what camera did you use? excellent pictures considering light conditions.
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! 🙂
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!
Thanks, Mel! The salt mine is a really impressive place. I hope you get a chance to see it for yourself one day!
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.
In my opinion Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the most beautiful places in Poland, I love it! Stunning place that everybody should visit 🙂
I agree – a really stunning place and definitely worth the visit!
I’d love to go here some day. .