Ooooooops…. I am not sure why… 😦 but for some or other reason some people are not able to view the photos in this post…. 😦 So I am trying this again (not quite sure what the reason for it would be… but here goes… let me know if it is indeed corrected!!! 😀
I have received another awesome email from one of my friends…. & now I have yet another place on my ‘places to visit’ list… oi…. can I live to be a 1000 years old??? 😉 Yet again, these are (unfortunately) not my photos… & I have no one to give credit to?? 😦 But a great piece of information accompanied with stunning images!! Enjoy!! 😀
“… Deep underground in Poland lies something remarkable, but little known outside Eastern Europe. For centuries, miners have extracted salt there, but left behind things quite startling and unique. Take a look at the most unusual salt mine in the world.
From the outside, Wieliczka Salt Mine doesn’t look extraordinary, but it is extremely well kept for a place that hasn’t mined any salt for over ten years. Apart from that, it looks ordinary. However, over two hundred meters below ground it holds an astonishing secret.
This is the salt mine that became an art gallery, cathedral and underground lake.
Situated in the Krakow area, Wieliczka is a small town of close to 20 000 inhabitants. It was founded in the twelfth century by a local Duke, to mine the rich deposits of salt that lie beneath. Until 1996 it did just that. But the generations of miners did more than just extract. They left behind them a breathtaking record of their time underground in the shape of statues of mythic, historical and religious figures. They even created their own chapels in which to pray.
Perhaps their most astonishing legacy is the huge underground cathedral they left behind for posterity.
As you descend into the depths of this world after a 150m climb down wooden stairs, the visitor to the salt mine will see some amazing sites. About the most astounding in terms of its sheer size and audacity is the Chapel of Saint Kinga.
The Polish people have for many centuries been devout Catholics and this was more
than just a long term hobby to relieve the boredom of being underground. This was an act of worship.
Amazingly, even the chandeliers in the cathedral are made of salt. It was not simply hewn from the ground and then thrown together; the process is more painstaking for the lighting.
After extraction, the rock salt was first of all dissolved. It was then reconstituted with the impurities taken out so that it achieved a glass-like finish. The chandeliers are what many visitors think the rest of the cavernous mine will be like as they have a picture in their minds of salt as they would sprinkle on their meals! However, the rock salt occurs naturally in different shades of grey (something like you would expect granite to look like).
Over one million visitors yearly (mainly from Poland and its eastern European neighbours) visit the mine to see, amongst other things, how salt was mined in the past.
For safety reasons, less than one percent of the mine is open to visitors, but even that is still almost four kilometers in length – more than enough to weary the average tourist after an hour or two.
The mine was closed for two reasons – the low price of salt on the world market made it too expensive to extract here. Also, the mine was slowly flooding – another reason why visitors are restricted to certain areas only.
The religious carvings are what draw many to this mine – as much for their amazing verisimilitude as for their Christian aesthetics. The above shows Jesus appearing to the apostles after the Crucifixion. He shows the doubter, Saint Thomas, the wounds on his wrists.
Another remarkable carving is The Last Supper. The work and patience that must have gone into the creation of these sculptures is extraordinary. One wonders what the miners would have thought of their work going on general display?
The cream of Europe’s thinkers have visited the site – you can still see many of their names in the old visitor’s books on display.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the mine was placed on the original list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1978.
A catastrophic flood in 1992 dealt the last blow to commercial salt mining in the area and now the mine functions purely as a tourist attraction. Brine is, however, still extracted from the mine – and then evaporated to produce some salt, but hardly on the ancient scale. If this was not done, then the mines wouldsoon become flooded once again.
Not all of the statues have a religious or symbolic imagery attached to them. The miners had a sense of humor, after all! Here can be seen their own take on the legend of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The intricately carved dwarves must have seemed to some of the miners a kind of ironic depiction of their own work.
The miners even threw in a dragon for good measure!
To cap it all there is even an underground lake, lit by subdued electricity and candles. How different a few minutes reflection here must have been to the noise and sweat of everyday working life in the mine… “
Someday I’ll be posting my own photos of this breathtaking Salt Mine… you mark my words!!! 😉 Have you had the honour of visiting there? 🙂 **
Sorry about that guys… I really hope you are able to view these fantastic images this time around…. 🙂 **