I never thought I could ever go to a salt mine or Poland. What would I do there? But here’s what happened! On arriving Czech Republic for holidays, my partner tells me: “We’ve got plans for you! We are going to Poland!” OK. I think to myself. In a few days we are headed to Poland alongside his brother and two of our good friends who we also holidayed with – last Christmas in Czech.
“Babe. Why are we going to a Salt Mine?” I question Tomas, as soon as we arrive at its grounds. It’s a very cold day in Krakow and I would have rather stayed in our beautiful Airbnb apartment all day. “Don’t worry, you will see what’s inside,” he says. We purchase 4 tickets into the museum – they are quite costly, I don’t understand why one ticket is going for about 50 USD.
There is a loudspeaker announcement from the entrance into the mine, that English speakers should start to line up at the door in preparation and should expect the tour to last about 3 hours. I am just here wondering why the hell we paid so much into a Salt Mine and what I will be doing in a mine for 3 hours in this winter cold!? Mhhh …
Salt Dates Back Into Time
We take Salt for granted because it is cheap and easily available. I am reminded of how precious it is while at the Mine. Life is incomplete without Salt as saltiness is one of the basic human tastes, making it one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings. In fact, the earliest evidence of salt processing dates back to around 8,000 years ago. Also remember that Salt has also always been an important method of food preservation.
We go down over 300 wooden steps to enter the Wieliczka salt mine that reaches a depth of 327 meters and is over 287 kilometres long. The entire mine is only made of wood and salt – only those two would collide less. Water is a No No here. There’s however an underground Salt Lake in the Mine with its water fully saturated in salt, so much that you wouldn’t really drown from sinking even if you fell into this lake.
We are very lucky to get a very good Polish tour guide with a warm persona and great sense of humour. I am very ashamed not to have noted down his name or taken a picture with him. I hate tour guides because they are always automated and some actually do it just so you can tip them at the end.
Our guide is constantly taking us deep into the history and at same time bringing us back to reality, by juxtaposing modern day Polish days and the Mine’s heydays. While taking us through different compartments representing centuries of mining and advancements, I notice that all the Rock Salt walls are made of different colours and textures, resembling granite. It’s not all white as you might be thinking.
Located in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland, this mine was opened in the 13th century, making it over 3,000 years old. In those olden days, the Mine’s activities and trade contributed to about 30% of all of Poland’s economy, and all of its stature. How it originally came about is that an entire sea subsided leaving behind Rock Salt – perfect for mining! After the first shafts were dug, they began construction of the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka (the central building) – head office of the mine’s board since medieval times till 1945. All along centuries, different technology like the Hungarian-type horse treadmill and Saxon treadmills to haul the salt to the top of the surface was enforced. Our guide explains this very well.