135 METERS BELOW THE SURFACE
Following my visit of Auschwitz-Birkenau the morning, I didn’t want to end the day on a note so tragic. So, on the way back to Krakow, I stop at Wieliczka, known for its famous salt mines.
Beautiful rooms carved into the salt, extraordinary underground lakes, majestic and unique sculptures of their kind. Nearly 3 kilometers of winding galleries, 360 steps down to 135 meters underground and 440 others steps along the way… It is not surprising if more than 36 million tourists from around the world in search of adventure have succumbed to the charms of the tourist route in the mines.
The adventure begins in the Danilowicz well. This is where we meet our guide who will talk about the history and secrets of the mine, shaped by the forces of nature and hard work of several generations of miners. Going down the first 360 steps, we discover unusual places where rock salt had to yield to the power of human hands. We admire also various mining machines and instruments.
A little further, we also discover another particular aspect of the mine Arriving in the middle of the excursion, we can admire the beautiful chapel dedicated to the Princess Kinga (Cunegonde), adorned with unique works of art in their genre and completely made of salt (soil, reliefs, statues, sculptures or even chandeliers). Many biblical scenes are represented (as the flight into Egypt, the miracle of Cana, the order of Herod, the massacre of the Innocents, Christ teaching in the temple, St. Thomas the Unbeliever, the Last Supper, Christ crucified) and we also find there a nativity scene with all its characters. This totally unique work in the world is what made the mine becoming a World Heritage Sites in 1978. The mine was visited by many celebrities, such as John Paul II, Javier Solana and George Bush.
We continue our visit and dream on hearing the compositions of Chopin on the banks of a saline lake. And finally, after tasting the specialties of the underground inn, we go back to the surface of the earth by taking a mining elevator.
After an emotionally challenging visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, seeing these salt mines has quickly changed my mind. This place is a must see when visiting Krakow. The visits are well organized and there are of course tours in English! The chapel is simply gorgeous and some cavities shaped by nature itself are amazing! Small problem: victim of its success, the mine hosts a lot of tourists and tours are running quickly, and we did not always have time to wander around.