Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Due to the closure of Auschwitz from flooding, we decided to alter our plans and visit another historically significant attraction in the Krakow Area, the Wieliczka Salt Mines. One of the oldest and largest in the world, the Wieliczka Salt mines have been continually mined from the early thirteenth century until 2006, when they were forced to discontinue excavation because of low demands and expense. We ventured forth on the city bus line, escorted by Pawel, a teacher from the Sopockie Szkoły Fotografii. Wieliczka lies about 10 miles outside of Krakow and it didn't take long for us to reach this small touristy town. While waiting for our English tour it was interesting seeing the diversity of the people gathered for this subterranean historical hike on a sunny Thursday. Large groups of young Polish students sat gathered on benches under trees while waiting for their own group tours.
At the time the tour was about to start we were packed together with about fifty other tourists and gently squeezed towards the entrance of the mine. Following in the steps of the million visitors the mine receives annually, we descended 378 wooden stairs, arranged in 54 steep flights. Slightly dizzy and disoriented at the bottom, we gathered around our guide ready to set out on the 3.5 km hike around the mines.
The Wieliczka Salt Mines official website has a thorough online tour of the various caverns, displays and cathedrals we saw. Trying to grasp what the tour guide was saying, through accent, echoes and the mere size of our group was rather challenging, though the sights and vastness of the carvings and tunnels made more of an impression than I think her words would have.

One of the most spectacular sights the mines have to offer is the Saint Kinga’s Chapel, built and decorated over a period of 100 years. Everything, from the floor to the chandeliers, is crafted from rock salt. Adorning the walls are shallow relief scenes from the New Testament, chiseled carefully from the salt walls. We were lucky enough to enter the chapel during the closing song to a private mass. The acoustics in the chapel are both haunting and gorgeous, with voices echoing in the vast chamber.


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