Wieliczka Salt Mine, located just outside of Krakow, was a working salt mine from the 13th century until 1996.
Our tour started with a descent down a tight wooden staircase of 378 steps until we reached the first mining level, where we began walking through carved passageways- with salt in the walls!
"Cauliflower" salt, also known as the best kind to taste. It's the most pure salt deposits in the mine, so when you take a lick you're less likely to get minerals and grit! For the record, I did not actually lick the walls, but I did lick my fingers and then rub the walls, and lick my fingers again- it's tasty salt!!
There are carvings and statues throughout the mine, made mostly by miners over the years. This scene depicts the Legend of St. Kinga. Kinga was the daughter of the Hungarian King Bela IV. Upon her engagement to King Boleslaw of Krakow, Kinga's father offered gold and silver to his new ally. The Polish king instead asked for salt from the Hungarian salt mines, as Poland had precious metals but no salt. Kinga had a premonition and dropped her engagement ring into a salt mineshaft in Hungary. When Kinga arrived in Krakow she ordered a well dug- workers soon hit hard stone, lifted it out, and found huge salt deposits, one of which contained Kinga's engagement ring! St. Kinga is now the patron saint of salt miners.
This sculpture is in honor of the penitents, or gas burners. These brave men would crawl first into new shafts, wearing water-soaked clothing and carrying torches on long sticks. The purpose of this act was to burn the methane released by the excavations before the larger groups of miners entered the area.
Horses were used in the mine, both to run machinery and to pull carts.
These horses lived underground for years and it was found that they had, on average, longer lives than horses who spent their entirety above ground. The same was discovered for the humans who worked in the mine- they lived longer than their above-ground working neighbors. Salt is the ultimate preservative!!
A roped off tunnel, but similar to the ones we walked.
Once of many rock salt chandeliers.
Two views, one with flash, of the Chapel of St. Kinga. There are several chapels in the mine, built by workers so they would have a place to worship during the day. St. Kinga's is the largest, approximately 54 meters in length, 15-18m in width, and 10-12m in height.
Much like any church, St. Kinga's is decorated with religious imagery. Unlike most churches these are not paintings or metal reliefs- they are salt reliefs!
Two salt crucifixes.
The Lord's Supper.
Aaaaaaand.... THE POPE!!
The Michałowice Chamber. An incredibly large chamber, excavated in the second half of the 17th century through the first half of the 18th. This is an example of the current support structures in place to prevent collapse.
Another rock salt chandelier.
Another view of cauliflower salt.