I’m walking 135 meters underground through a narrow, dimly lit corridor. I pull my fleece jacket zipper all the way up so my neck is covered and shove my hands into my pockets. It’s nippy down here. Just then, I turn a corner and find snowy white, cauliflower-like growths along the walls.
So I reach out, break off a piece, and taste it.
I wasn’t dreaming or in Willy Wonka’s factory. I was in a salt mine—the Wieliczka Salt Mine, just outside Krakow, Poland.
The puffy white stuff was pure edible salt. Salt is still all throughout the mine, mostly in the form of rock salt, although in 1996 they stopped excavating the mine we’re touring.
Emese and I were venturing through the Wieliczka’s Tourist Route with about 25 others on an English-speaking guided tour, taking us through about 3 kilometers of corridors and 20 chambers. There are 800 steps too, including 350 just to get us to the bottom. Thank goodness for the elevator that lifted us out at the end.
The Wieliczka salt deposits formed a mere 13.6 million years ago. Rock salt was discovered in Wieliczka and the first shafts were dug in the 13th century. It’s quite a special place, and one of 12 places on the very first UNESCO World Heritage List.
When planning our Krakow trip, we weren’t sure if we wanted to visit the mine, but we’re glad we did. It was a fascinating glimpse into a world I’d never known. Plus, it was just a cool place, literally and figuratively. (It happened to be quite hot the day we visited.)
Throughout the mine, there are amazing rock salt sculptures. One was a complete scene of the legend of Princess Kinga and how she brought salt to Poland.
There’s also King Casimir the Great, who not only approved the mining laws in 1368, but also was a peaceful and savvy diplomatic ruler. I couldn’t help but think Neptune when I looked at him.
You can also find other chapels, a ballroom, a restaurant, rest rooms, spa facilities, a saline lake, and even more throughout the mine. I’m thinking of visiting the spa sometime. First, I’ll do a test run using the bath salts I bought…I just have to find a tub first.
PS. There was a fee to take pictures, so we split the cost, and Emese took all the pictures. All four pictures posted were taken by her. Thanks, Emese!