The Wieliczka Salt Mine is the oldest salt company in Poland that dates back to the Middle Ages. For centuries it was the source of the country’s wealth and the material foundation of culture – today it is the most-visited Polish tourist destination. Several hundred years of exploitation of the rock salt deposit shaped the current spatial arrangement of mining excavations. Hidden beneath the city, located on nine levels, they reach a depth of 327 m. Underground Wieliczka is close to 300 km of sidewalks and about 3,000 chambers.
The part open to the public covers a 3.5-kilometer section, located at a depth of 64 m to 135 m. Visiting the mine takes about 3 hours. On the tourist route there are several chambers, numerous sculptures and bas-reliefs made of salt, salt lakes, chapels.
Life-size salt sculptures in the Janowice chamber deserve special attention for the youngest visitors to the underground tourist route. They illustrate one of the most beautiful legends in Wieliczka, telling about the discovery of rock salt in Poland.
According to this legend, Kinga the daughter of the Hungarian king Bela IV, before marriage she threw her engagement ring into the mine shaft in Maramuresz. This ring miraculously came with rock salt to Wieliczka.
After arriving in Poland, the duchess ordered to dig in the place she indicated. Miners obedient to her will, digging a shaft, found Kinga’s engagement ring in the first lump of salt extracted.
This legend is perfectly illustrated by the mini performance in the Janowice chamber. Tourists use the moody light and sound to travel to the times of the legendary beginnings of the Wieliczka mine.
The chamber was created as a result of salt exploitation in the 17th and 18th centuries.
It presents in a plastic way the heart attack and gas threats occurring in the Wieliczka undergrounds. While working, the rock mass clamps spaces created by miners.
It is visible on wooden stands, so-called witnesses, broken like matches. However, the danger that methane was carrying was illustrated by the characters of penitents, carved in 1972 by the miner Mieczysław Kluzek.
Here, the mini performance tells about the work of miners and the danger of fire-related attitudes. Sound and light recreate the scene of a fire.
Another attraction is Sielec Chamber (this picture is the long corridor).
There are life-size figures of miners who are encouraged by horses at work.
Particularly noteworthy is the collection of authentic devices used for salt transport via underground corridors. They are represented by wooden carts called Hungarian dogs (children remember this name), chests and special sanice (shelves).
For many centuries, miners themselves transported the spoil, until horses began to help them at work. From the sixteenth century, it was their strength that began to be used in vertical and horizontal transport.
Fine salt was loaded into barrels that were placed on the shelves. Crates and carts were pushed along wooden tracks, i.e. beech boards (skids) arranged in pairs. However, larger lumps of salt were processed into a cylinder – forming the so-called snowmen. This shape allowed them to be turned with wooden rods to the places where treadmills worked.
The horses went to the mine when they were young and stayed here all their lives, until old age.
Chamber of Casimir the Great
Mining works began at this place in the mid-eighteenth century, digging a lump of green salt. In 1968, the chamber was named after Casimir the Great on the 600-year anniversary of the king establishing the statute for Krakow Saltworks.
This act regulating customary mining law regulated the management of the mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia, breweries and a mining farm. Żupnik, as administrator or tenant, supervised salt mining and trade on behalf of the king.
In the Old Polish period, salt was a very expensive article, as it served not only to season dishes, but was a basic preservative. In the fourteenth century, revenues from Krakow Saltworks accounted for 1/3 of the state treasury’s revenues. Thanks to them, for many centuries, the construction of bourgeois tenement houses in Kraków, the Renaissance Wawel castle, numerous churches and monasteries was financed.
The chamber has a natural size and a movable treadmill model.
A model of a neolithic village (5,500 – 3,500 years before Christ) was built based on the results of archaeological research conducted in Wieliczka.
The appearance of the village with characteristic indoor buildings, cultivated plots and farms for livestock was presented. In the foreground of the model is the figure of a neolithic mason who processes flint into blades for agricultural tools.
At that time, apart from agriculture and farming, he was also involved in the production of salt. Already in the Neolithic, many millennia before the discovery of rock salt, surface brine was used to make evaporated salt.
In the central part of the exhibition, the neolithic brewhouse was reconstructed, which included grooves, a clarifier, potted hearth vessels and briquetting.
The brewing process began with hollowing special grooves in the ground through which brine flowed into rectangular tanks. From here it was earthed into clay vessels, which were then placed on hearths. After the evaporation process was completed, the thick salt mass was placed in briquettes (small cup-shaped vessels) in which the salt solidified.
Brewed salt was produced in the area of Wieliczka during the following prehistoric periods as well as in the early Middle Ages, when it had to be used to extract brine, drill wells and extract brine using a crane. From the 12th century, metal bushes began to be used for evaporation of water.
After the discovery of the first lumps of rock salt (mid-thirteenth century), still evaporated salt was produced in parallel. It was not until 1724 that the brewing workshop was interrupted and it was resumed only shortly before World War I, in a modern vacuum brewhouse for the conditions. At that time, brine was obtained by leaching the bed with water, initially by spraying salt side walls, later by chamber and hole leaching.
Pieskowa Skała Chamber has two levels, 65.0 m (higher) and 90.7 m (lower).
A family has set up here … Look at their clothes.
Takomora shows well how difficult it was to work in a mine, how slippery the stairs were when miners brought heavy salt. Visitors go down the stairs – they appreciate the work of miners. Steep quite large.
At the bottom of the chamber, stairs carved in the rock have survived, after which porters called noses carried fine salt in special bags (moorings) or wooden troughs. Then it was loaded into barrels with wooden shovels and rammers, ready for transport to the surface.
You can check here how the manual cross adapted to human hands works. The barrels were pulled out and lowered.
Dwarfs – little helpers of miners also live in this chamber.
Another, especially attractive place for children in the mine is the Podegie Kunegunda where there are figurines of dwarfs – the work of miner Stefan Kozik.
Salt dwarfs, personifying former miners, please the youngest visitors. They are considered good ghosts that guard the salt treasure and help Wieliczka miners in the mine.
Here, children can listen to the song and watch a fairy tale mini-spectacle especially prepared for them, created using computer-controlled light and sound.
Miners say that these house elves, also known as soliludks, hidden from people’s eyes live in the underground kingdom of Solilandia. However, sometimes they appear in the mine and help miners at work. Of course, the youngest visitors enjoy their presence the most. In honor of friendly and hard-working dwarves, this place was called the Grotto of Soliludks. Here, children can listen to the song about Solilandia and watch a fairy tale mini-spectacle especially prepared for them, created using computer-controlled light and sound (Beata Kołodziej, author of children’s stories).