A Tour of Wieliczka Salt Mine

Quite a few portions of the mine are out of bounds for the tourist. Even then the tour takes a mammoth two hours. The structures and monuments are all below the ground and the tour involves a lot of crawling.

The mine at Wieliczka is a veritable city in itself, complete with churches, chapels, recreational rooms, houses and castles. The mine is a crisscross of tunnels connecting all these structures. In addition, various underground lakes and rivulets traverse the length and breadth of the mine.

The museum exhibits are on show on the 3rd level of the mine as well as in the castle itself. Some of the exhibits are mining tools and machinery, geological samples, paintings depicting the work and lives of the miners, replicas of ancient buildings and a recreation of Wieliczka as it looked 350 years ago.

The Salt-Works Castle is a treasure trove of sorts in that it is the only one of its kind in Poland, which has on display mining structures prevalent in the period from the 13th century to the middle of the 20th century.

"The House Amidst the Salt Mine" used to be the seat of power in the days of yore, for it was home to the administrator of the salt mines. The house consists medieval style cellars and a Gothic architectural style with vaults, coffers and tie beams. It is interesting to note that the original keystone, some ribs and stonework have been preserved and displayed for posterity.

For the history buffs, there is a slice of Wieliczka's history preserved in the rooms of the house, right from the prehistoric to the modern era.

The northernmost edifice is the "Salt-Mine House" consisting underground dungeons, a chapel and utility rooms on the ground floor and the dwelling quarters of the high ranked officials on the first floor. Though presently devoid of all furnishings, the portals, window frames and the coat of arms of the salt mine administrators still exist.

In the castle are the remnants of Poland's very first instance of employee canteen. This canteen to provide free meals to the permanent staff of the salt mines.

There is a tower in the castle, which dates back to the 14th century, and it has been preserved in its originality. Along with the walls, it constituted the northwest defence scheme of the castle. The tower also comprised a jail, a gallery for shooting practice and the temporary residence of the salt-works chaplain.

During the archaeological excavations, numerous martial artifacts like knives, cannon balls, stirrups had been recovered from the site of the tower.

The castle inside the salt mine also bears the distinction of harboring the oldest shaft in Poland. The mining shaft is supported by wooden beams and pillars.

Breathtakingly beautiful are the sculptures made out of salt that embellish parts of the mine, the castle and the chapel. There is even a chandelier that has been carved out of rock salt.

However, the icing on the cake is the chapel dedicated to patron saint princess Kinga. The chapel, "Blessed Kinga", is the largest among the three and is situated 101 meters below the ground. It is made wholly out of salt and is lavishly adorned with salt sculptures, bas-reliefs and ornate chandeliers, made of salt crystals.