Travel To Wieliczka Salt Mines
Wieliczka is one of the oldest documented salt mines in Europe, often called the "Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland". Rock salt was mined at Wieliczka from the Middle Ages up until the 20th century. The mine sprawls over nine floors and reaches heights of 1,072 feet below the surface. It includes 2040 chambers and more than 186 miles of galleries, 26 surface shafts, and 180 connecting caverns.
Interestingly, each of the nine levels contains a chapel , several different pieces of artwork, and sculpted statues in salt. There are also salt lakes which you can actually row in small dingies. The oldest preserved chapel is the St.Anthony Chapel where mass was first celebrated in 1698. St Anthony's is also home to some freestanding statues, including those of the Virgin Mary and the infant St. Anthony, the patron saint of metal miners.
In 1896, work began on the largest chapel in the collection, St. Kinga, and continued up until 1963. The chapel is carved completely out of salt. Every inch, including the floor to the ceiling, the altars and statues, and the chandeliers, is made from salt crystals that were adapted for electricity in 1918.
Bottom of St Kinga Shaft
There are several other chambers dedicated to religious and Polish historical figures. The most lighthearted figures include the gnomes in the small Kuneganda Pit Bottom, imitating miners at work. This, of course, is a playful representation of the efforts of the miners, and also to Polish folklore.
The first tourist route at Wieliczka was opened in the middle of the 19th century. In order to get down to the level of the mine, visitors must descend a wooden stairway of 378 steps. After the three-kilometer tour of the mine's corridors, chapels, statues and lake, 135 metres underground, visitors take an elevator back up to the surface. The elevator holds 36 persons (nine per car) and takes some 30 seconds to reach the surface.
According to UNESCO "The Wieliczka salt mine reflects all the historic stages of development in mining techniques from the 13th to the 20th centuries, while the devices and tools preserved there document the old systems of working the deposits, drainage, lighting, and ventilation of the mine in a unique manner by world standards."