Salt Mine Wieliczka in Poland.
Today, with the history of more than seven hundred years, the historic “Wieliczka” Salt Mine is Poland’s oldest business venture. Since 1978 it features on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. The interactive time axis allows to present its extraordinary history.
Deep under the ground, but always with culture on the highest level. The mine provides a venue for splendid underground concerts and theatre shows, it is here where films are shot and excellent exhibitions are put on display.
The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 meters and is over 287 kilometres (178 mi) long. The rock salt is naturally grey in various shades, resembling unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors may expect. In the 13th century, rock salt was discovered in Wieliczka and the first shafts were dug. The construction of the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka (the central building – “The House within the Saltworks”) – head office of the mine’s board since medieval times till 1945. The Saltworks Castle was built in the late 13th to early 14th century. Wieliczka is now the location of the Kraków Saltworks Museum. Many shafts were dug throughout the time the mine was in operation. Different technology was added such as the Hungarian-type horse treadmill and Saxon treadmills to haul the salt to the top of the surface. During World War II, the shafts were used by the occupying Germans as an ad hoc facility for various war-related industries. The mine features an underground lake; and the new exhibits on the history of salt mining, as well as a 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) touring route (less than 2% of the length of the mine's passages) that includes historic statues and mythical figures carved out of rock salt in distant past. More recent sculptures have been fashioned by contemporary artists.
The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as "the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland". In 1978 it was placed on the original UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. It also houses a private rehabilitation and wellness complex.
There is a legend about Princess Kinga, associated with the Wieliczka mine. The Hungarian princess was about to be married to Bolesław V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, she asked her father, Béla IV of Hungary, for a lump of salt, since salt was prizeworthy in Poland. Her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Bolesław in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess's ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital.
During the Nazi occupation, several thousand Jews were transported from the forced labour camps in Plaszow and Mielec to the Wieliczka mine to work in the underground armament factory set up by the Germans. However, manufacturing never began as the Soviet offensive was nearing. Some of the machines and equipment was disassembled, including an electrical hoisting machine from the Regis Shaft, and transported to Liebenau in the Sudetes mountains. Part of the equipment was returned after the war, in autumn 1945. The Jews were transported to factories in the Czech Republic and Austria.