Monthly Archives: March 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #201: Wieliczka Salt Mine

Posted by on March 3, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #201: Wieliczka Salt Mine

UNESCO World Heritage Site #201: Wieliczka Salt Mine

From the World Heritage inscription:

The salt mines of Cracow exemplify a large industrial establishment, administratively and technically well organized, the continued existence of which has been ensured by the process of adaptation since the Middle Ages. The progressive development of mining processes over the centuries is perfectly illustrated there, in all its stages, owing to the consolidation and conservation of the old galleries, each with the installations of their time. A comprehensive collection of mining tools displayed inside the mine constitutes valuable material evidence of the evolution of mining technology over a long period of European history.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in southern Poland near the city of Cracow, has been worked as a source of rock salt since the late 13th century. The total length of the galleries, in which are to be found wells, corridors, labyrinths, excavations of all sorts, rooms, and even chapels cut out of the salt, with altars, pulpits and statues, is some 300 km, connecting more than 2,000 excavation chambers on nine underground levels. It extends 5 km to the east and west and 1 km to the north and south, reaching a maximum depth of 327 m below the surface. Over the centuries, miners have established a tradition of carving sculptures out of the native rock salt. As a result, the mine contains entire underground churches, altars, bas-reliefs, and dozens of life-size or larger statues. It also houses an underground museum and has a number of special-purpose chambers such as a sanatorium for people suffering from respiratory ailments. The largest of the chapels, the Chapel of the Blessed King, is located 101 m below the surface; it is over 50 m long, 15 m wide and 12 m high, with a volume of 10,000 cm3 . The subterranean lake, open to tourists since the 15th century, completes this curious complex.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the top attractions for anyone visiting Krakow.

The salt mine is most famous for the chapels and sculptures which miners have been carving for hundreds of years. I have long heard about the salt mines but I wasn’t really expecting to be as large as it was. Some of the caverns are enormous and what tourists can see is only a fraction of the mine.

There are numerous tours available throughout Krakow and you should budget at least two hours to explore the mine. Lighting conditions in the mine are poor at best, so either bring a tripod or lower your expectations.

The salt mine also has the distinction of being one of the 12 inaugural world heritage sites listed in 1978.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #200: Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp

Posted by on March 2, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #200: Auschwitz Birkenau  German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp

UNESCO World Heritage Site #200: Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp

From the World Heritage inscription:

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the principal and most notorious of the six concentration and extermination camps established by Nazi Germany to implement its Final Solution policy which had as its aim the mass murder of the Jewish people in Europe. Built in Poland under Nazi German occupation initially as a concentration camp for Poles and later for Soviet prisoners of war, it soon became a prison for a number of other nationalities. Between the years 1942-1944 it became the main mass extermination camp where Jews were tortured and killed for their so-called racial origins. In addition to the mass murder of well over a million Jewish men, women and children, and tens of thousands of Polish victims, Auschwitz also served as a camp for the racial murder of thousands of Roma and Sinti and prisoners of several European nationalities.

The Nazi policy of spoliation, degradation and extermination of the Jews was rooted in a racist and anti-Semitic ideology propagated by the Third Reich.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of the concentration camp complexes created by the Nazi German regime and was the one which combined extermination with forced labour. At the centre of a huge landscape of human exploitation and suffering, the remains of the two camps of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, as well as its Protective Zone were placed on the World Heritage List as evidence of this inhumane, cruel and methodical effort to deny human dignity to groups considered inferior, leading to their systematic murder. The camps are a vivid testimony to the murderous nature of the anti-Semitic and racist Nazi policy that brought about the annihilation of more than 1.2 million people in the crematoria, 90% of whom were Jews.

When we celebrate the collective heritage of the human race, most of what we preserve and wish to preserve are ennobling and uplifting things. Things which are reminders of the stepping stones which made up the people we are today.

Unfortunately, history does not always follow an upward trajectory. Auschwitz Birkenau is one of a small number of world heritage sites which remembers the worst parts of our history. Along with Hiroshima, Grand Pre, and Masada, Auschwitz is probably the most poignant reminder of how low humanity can stoop.

Auschwitz isn’t a “great” site in the sense that it is a world wonder on a par with the pyramids or the Great Wall of China, but it is probably just as important and significant.

If you have the opportunity, you should take the time to visit Auschwitz. It isn’t a pleasant experience, but something which everyone should experience at least once.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #199: Cracow’s Historic Centre

Posted by on March 1, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Sites #199: Cracow's Historic Centre

UNESCO World Heritage Sites #199: Cracow’s Historic Centre

From the World Heritage inscription:

The urban layout of Cracow, an outstanding example of medieval architecture, is based on four core areas: the centre, around the market square; the Wawel, the hill inhabited since the Palaeolithic and the site of the imperial palace; the urban district of Kazimierz; and the Stradom quarter.

The historic centre of Cracow, the former capital of Poland, is situated at the foot of the Royal Wawel Castle. The 13th-century merchants’ town has Europe’s largest market square and numerous historical houses, palaces and churches with magnificent interiors. Further evidence of the town’s fascinating history is provided by the remnants of the 14th-century fortifications and the medieval site of Kazimierz with its ancient synagogues in the southern part of town, the Jagellonian University, and the Gothic cathedral where the kings of Poland were buried.

Stare Miasto is the old city, characterized by the rigid grid of perfectly orthogonal streets, the layout ordered by Boloslaw the Chaste in 1257 when he decided to unify the various peoples scattered around the hill of the Wawel. All that remains now of the medieval enclosure walls is the gate and the little wall that was built in 1499 near the main city gate.

Krakow is a beautiful city.

You can really tell the difference between Krakow and Warsaw when you see both cities close up. The newness of the Warsaw old city is much more evident once you compare it to Krakow.

As with the old parts of many European cities, the old city of Krakow is a tourist district. There are plenty of restaurants, souvenir stores and horse drawn carriages.

I’ve had many other travelers recommend Krakow to me and I can heartily pass along the recommendation. Not only is Krakow itself a UNESCO Site, but there are four more within a 40km radius of the city.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.