The famous salt mines of Krakow are located in the nearby town of Wieliczka, and a fascinating history lies deep within its tunnels and chambers. The mine is one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments and listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Apart from the main tunnels, the mine has no less than four chapels carved out of the rock salt by the miners themselves. Over 1 million people visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine each year. Here are 5 amazing facts about them.
The salt mine in Krakow is over 700 years old
The grey-coloured rock salt was discovered in the 13th century, and that is when the first shafts were dug in Wieliczka, which is a small town about 20km southeast of Krakow. Commercial mining continued up to 1996.
Almost 7.5 million cu. m. of total deposits have been excavated from within the mine during its history. This volume of soil could build as many as 3 pyramids similar in size to the Pyramid of Cheops!
There are almost 300 kilometres of tunnels
Wieliczka has an amazing network of tunnels that have been dug over the centuries. Although the tunnels meander in all directions, there are essentially 9 main levels, the deepest of which is about 330 metres below ground. Visitors to the salt mines have the chance to explore just a small fraction of the tunnels, but those that they do visit are the most spectacular, as the tunnels open out into chapels, including the striking Chapel of Saint Kinga, which has a floor area of over 400 metres squared and can host up to 400 people. Everything in this chapel is made of salt, from the altar to the chandeliers and it is truly a spectacular achievement, both artistically and in terms of engineering. From time to time the chapel hosts weddings, concerts and theatre performances.
The mine is as deep as the Eiffel Tower
To get into the mine, you have to walk down 380 stairs just to reach the first of nine levels, and this gives you the first indication of just how deep the salt mines are! The very lowest part of the mine is about 330 metres feet below ground, 3 metres more than the Eiffel Tower is high! Fortunately, visitors are able to take the lift back to the surface.
Horses lowered into the mine to work could never leave
Many thousands of horses were used in the mine over the centuries to power treadmills which, through a system of pulleys and cables, moved baskets of salt up and down through the mine shafts. One of the saddest facts is that those horses were lowered on harnesses into the mine, but never saw the light of day again. Once the poor animals had died, they were too heavy to lift back up again, so they were buried in the mine itself. The treadmills that they powered have been preserved by the salt and are still able to be moved to this day. Fortunately, however, no more horses will have to suffer the same fate of their forbears in the mine.
The salt mine has its own underground wellness complex
Salt has always been associated with health and wellbeing. For example, for generations people have long claimed that salty sea air could cure nearly any illness, and there is good reason for this. Because salt is a natural disinfectant with preserving and antibacterial properties, it has been used in medical practices for hundreds of years. Because of the salt in the very fabric of the mine, an underground health centre has been established for people with chronic respiratory and allergic diseases. People can stay for extended periods in the accommodation in the mine, and many swear by its healing properties.
You can find out more about these and other amazing facts about the Salt Mine by taking a guided tour to the salt mine.