The Chapel of Saint Kinga The Chapel of Saint Kinga

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine is a remarkable destination in Poland but little known outside the country. Miners have extracted salt there for centuries, they left behind spectacular and unique things. The mine was placed on the original list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1978.
The outside of the Wieliczka Salt Mine is not very surprising but it looks well kept taking into consideration that there hasn’t been extracted salt for almost 10 years. The secret of this tourist destination lies underground and consists of a cathedral, an art gallery and an underground lake. The mine was closed because of the low price of salt on the world market made it too expensive to extract here. Nine centuries of mining in Wieliczka produced a total of some 200 kilometers of passages as well as 2,040 caverns of varied size. The tourist route starts 64 m deep, includes twenty chambers, and ends 135 m below the earth surface, where the world's biggest museum of mining is located with the unique centuries-old equipment among its exhibits.
The salt mine is situated in Wieliczka village - a small town in Krakow area. The village was founded in 20th century by a local Duke to mine the rich deposits of salt that lie beneath. Until 1996 when the mine was closed the generations of miners besides extracting they used to sculpture in salt – statues and historical and religious figures. They even created their own chapels in which to pray. Maybe the great thing they left behind is the huge underground cathedral.
The visitor will see amazing sites after they will climb down one hundred and fifty meter wooden stairs. The Chapel of Saint Kinga is able to impress anyone. For many centuries, the Polish people have been devout Catholics and this was more than just a long term hobby to relieve the boredom of being underground; this was an act of worship. Everything in the cathedral is made of salt, even the chandeliers. Thinga that attract so many tourist are the religious carvings which are amazing verisimilitude as for their Christian aesthetics. The above shows Jesus appearing to the apostles after the crucifixion; he shows his wounds on his wrists to Saint Thomas. There are many life sized statues that must have taken months, even years to create. But not all of the statues have a religious or symbolic imagery attached to them; the miners had a sense of humor as well. The Snow White and the Seven Dwarves can be found there. The intricately carved dwarves must have seemed to some of the miners a kind of ironic depiction of their own work.
There is even an underground lake, lit by subdued electricity and candles. This is perhaps where the old legends of lakes to the underworld and Catholic imagery of the saints work together to best leave a lasting impression of the mine. How different a few minutes reflection here must have been to the noise and sweat of everyday working life in the mine.
The sculpture process was difficult: after extraction the rock salt was first of all dissolved. It was then reconstituted without impurities so that it achieved a glass-like finish. The rock salt occurs naturally in different shades of grey. Over one million visitors visit this architectural gem every year to see how salt was mined in the past. A lot of machinery and tools that miners used are on display and are centuries old. For safety reasons - the mine was flooded - less than one percent of the mine is open to visitors, but even that is still almost four kilometers in length. The catastrophic flood has occurred in 1992, this was the last blow to commercial salt mining in the area and now the mine functions purely as a tourist attraction. However, brine is still extracted from the mine, to prevent another flood.
There is a sanatorium for those suffering from asthma and allergy situated 135 meters deep underground in the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
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