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The Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland. Why it’s a must-see attraction

24/05/2024 11:04 - AKTUALIZACJA 24/05/2024 11:04

Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland. The salt mine near Krakow in Wieliczka is truly one of Poland’s most remarkable sites. With a history spanning over 700 years, miners were still working here up to 25 years ago. During their time underground, they crafted an extraordinary temple of immense proportions. It’s no surprise that the mine has become one of the country’s top tourist destinations.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, how the Salt mine helped build the entire city

For centuries, the extraction of „white gold” from the Wieliczka salt mine has left an indelible mark on Poland. At its zenith, salt sales accounted for a significant portion of the state’s income, with one third of the budget derived from this trade. These funds supported the salaries of government officials and financed the construction of key structures such as castles and churches. Notably, the establishment of the University of Krakow, Poland’s first university, was made possible by the salt trade.

As early as 1368, under King Casimir the Great, hundreds of individuals toiled underground in the Wieliczka salt mine. Despite the considerable risks involved, they manually carved through the mountains to extract rock salt. For centuries, these workers bore the burden of transporting salt lumps weighing up to 2,000 kilograms on their own until the introduction of horses in the 16th century eased their load. By then, the Wieliczka salt mine was producing around 30,000 tons of salt annually. Remarkably, the mine’s uniqueness drew tourists as early as the 15th century, with notable figures like the renowned Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus among its visitors.
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Millions of visitors annually

Following Poland’s annexation by the Austrian Habsburgs in 1772, the Wieliczka salt mine witnessed another period of prosperity. With the adoption of more advanced methods like blasting, miners could delve into unprecedented depths, reaching a staggering 327 meters underground. Post-World War II, the mine underwent further modernization, expanding to its present scale. Its significance was duly recognized when it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978.

Initially shut down in 1996 due to the escalating costs of salt extraction, the Wieliczka Salt Mine found a new lease on life as a tourist destination. With a surge in visitors since the 1970s, reopening the mine as an attraction proved to be a logical decision. Today, it welcomes around two million visitors annually, including dignitaries and even royalty.
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The most unusual church in Europe

Although salt extraction is no longer practiced here, the miners remain active, focusing on ensuring the safety of the mine. Many of the mine’s over 2,000 chambers have been transformed into stunning spaces. Among them is the Chapel of St. Kinga, an underground church believed to be one of its kind in Europe. Located 101 meters underground, this 400-square-meter rock church can accommodate up to 400 guests. It boasts intricate artistic sculptures and bas-reliefs crafted from salt stone.
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Wieliczka’s tourist offer

A visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine is included in one of the tourist routes, available in two options. During the two-hour tour, guests will only explore about two percent of the expansive mine. Tours are available for both individuals and groups. For those seeking a longer stay, spa holidays of up to 21 days can be booked within the mine’s premises.

Moreover, the Wieliczka Salt Mine provides conference facilities for business travellers and can be rented for various events. Catering services are also available upon request.