UNESCO World Heritage Site #201: Wieliczka Salt Mine

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.

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