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Wieliczka Salt Mine

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Title: Wieliczka Salt Mine  
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Subject: Lesser Poland, Featured picture candidates/Views of Wieliczka Salt Mines by Willem Hondius, Bochnia Salt Mine, Featured picture candidates/February-2015, List of World Heritage Sites in Eastern Europe
Collection: 13Th-Century Establishments, 1996 Disestablishments, Buildings and Structures in Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Industry Museums in Poland, Lesser Poland, Mining Museums, Mining Museums in Poland, Museums in Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Registered Museums in Poland, Salt Mines in Poland, Salt Museums, Tourist Attractions in Poland, Underground Mines in Poland, Wieliczka County, World Heritage Sites in Danger, World Heritage Sites in Poland
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Wieliczka Salt Mine

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Chapel of St. Kinga, deep within the Wieliczka salt mine.
Type Cultural
Criteria iv
Reference 32
UNESCO region Europe
Inscription history
Inscription 1978 (2nd Session)
Extensions 2008, 2013
Endangered 1989–1998

The Wieliczka Salt Mine (Polish: Kopalnia soli Wieliczka), located in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland, lies within the Kraków metropolitan area. The mine, built in the 13th century, produced table salt continuously until 2007, as one of the world's oldest salt mines still in operation. Throughout its existence, the Royal mine was run by the Żupy krakowskie Salt Mines. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding.[1][2]

The mine's attractions include dozens of statues and four chapels that have been carved out of the rock salt by the miners. The oldest sculptures are augmented by the new carvings by contemporary artists. About 1.2 million people visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine annually.[1]

The mine is one of Poland's official national Historic Monuments (Pomnik historii), as designated in the first round, September 16, 1994. Its listing is maintained by the National Heritage Board of Poland.


  • History 1
  • Tourism 2
  • In literature 3
  • In media 4
  • Virtual tour 5
  • Sister caves 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Surface and underground views of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Composite of illustrations to a series of maps of the town and mines of Wieliczka engraved in 1645 by Willem Hondius.

The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 metres (1,073 ft) 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. 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 [3] 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 noblewoman was about to be married to Bolesław V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, she asked her father 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.[4]

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.[5]

In 2010 it was successfully proposed that the nearby historic Bochnia Salt Mine (Poland's oldest salt mine) be added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The two sister salt mines now appear together in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites as the "Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines".[6] In 2013 the UNESCO World Heritage Site was expanded by the addition of the Żupny Castle.


Notable visitors to this site have included Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, Fryderyk Chopin, Dmitri Mendeleyev, Bolesław Prus,[7] Ignacy Paderewski, Robert Baden-Powell, Jacob Bronowski (who filmed segments of The Ascent of Man in the mine), the von Unrug family (a prominent Polish-German royal family), Karol Wojtyła (later, Pope John Paul II), former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and many others.

There is a chapel, and a reception room that is used for private functions, including weddings. A chamber has walls carved by miners to resemble wood, as in wooden churches built in early centuries.

A wooden staircase with 378 steps provides access to the mine's 64-metre (210-foot) level. A 3-kilometre (1.9-mile) tour features corridors, chapels, statues, and underground lake, 135 metres (443 ft) underground. An elevator (lift) returns visitors to the surface; the elevator holds 36 persons (nine per car) and takes some 30 seconds to make the trip.

In literature

The Wieliczka Salt Mine helped inspire the Labyrinth scenes in Bolesław Prus' 1895 historical novel, Pharaoh.[8]

Prus described his 1878 visit to the salt mine in a remarkable series of three articles, "Kartki z podróży (Wieliczka)" ["Travel Notes (Wieliczka)"], in Kurier Warszawski (The Warsaw Courier), 1878, nos. 36–38.[9]

The great Prus scholar Zygmunt Szweykowski writes: "The power of the Labyrinth scenes stems, among other things, from the fact that they echo Prus' own experiences when visiting Wieliczka."[10]

Prus combined his powerful experiences of Wieliczka with the description of the ancient Egyptian Labyrinth, in Book II of Herodotus' Histories, to produce the remarkable scenes found in chapters 56 and 63 of his novel, Pharaoh.[11]

In media

In 1995, Preisner's Music, a compilation of film music by Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, was recorded by Sinfonia Varsovia in the Wieliczka mine's chapel. The chapel is often said to have the best acoustics in Europe.[12]

Virtual tour

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Entrance to the Salt mine (Nadszybie Daniłowicza)
Entrance with
St Barbara's statue
Saint Kinga
carved in rock salt [2]
Leonardo's "The Last Supper"
carved in a wall of rock salt
Old corridor
Old corridor
Salt statue of Pope John Paul II
Salt statue
of Pope John Paul II
Old winch in the museum
Old winch
in the museum
Bottom of St Kinga's Shaft
Bottom of
St Kinga's Shaft
Chandelier in st. Kinga chapel
Chandelier carved in rock salt
at St Kinga's Chapel

Sister caves

See also


  1. ^ a b "Wieliczka – The Salt of the Earth" at the (English) (Polish)
  2. ^ a b Ancient salt-works. Wieliczka see: carving by Jozef Markowski, late 19th century. (Internet Archive). Retrieved July 31, 2013.
  3. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre. "Wieliczka Salt Mine - UNESCO World Heritage Centre". Retrieved 2013-07-16. 
  4. ^ "History of Wieliczka Salt Mine". Poland For Visitors Travel Guide. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  7. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa (The Works of Bolesław Prus), second edition, Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1972, p. 451, note 21.
  8. ^ Christopher Kasparek, "Prus' Pharaoh and the Wieliczka Salt Mine," The Polish Review, 1997, no. 3, pp. 349–55.
  9. ^ Reprinted in Bolesław Prus, Wczoraj–dziś–jutro: wybór felietonów (Yesterday–Today–Tomorrow: a Selection of Newspaper Columns, selected, edited, and with foreword and notes, by Zygmunt Szweykowski), Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1973, pp. 34–49.
  10. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa (The Works of Bolesław Prus), second edition, Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1972, p. 451, note 21.
  11. ^ Christopher Kasparek, "Prus' Pharaoh: the Creation of a Historical Novel", The Polish Review, vol. XXXIX, no. 1, 1994, p. 47.
  12. ^ Zbigniew Preisner, "Preisner's Music", Virgin France, 1995.
  13. ^ Grotte Gemellate. Consorzio frasassi. (Internet Archive)


External links

  • Wieliczka The salt of the Earth/
  • Wieliczka salt mine
  • Video tour of mine
  • Cracow Salt-Works Museum in Wieliczka (plan of mine)
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine near Kraków in Poland
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour
  • Air Pollution Intrusion into the Wieliczka Salt Mine
  • "A Piece of Salt that Weighs 200 Tons" fallen from Wieliczka chamber roof in 1916; Popular Science monthly, Feb 1916, page 179. Scanned by Google Books.

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