Wieliczka Salt Mine

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The Chapel of the Blessed Kinga.  The picture is from the Wieliczka Salt Mine guidebook.

The Wielicka salt mine is an OLD mine! Salt has been produced in the area of the Wieliczka mine since about 3,500 B.C. first by evaporating brine found on the surface, later by digging brine wells.  The current mine was started in the 1300's, making it about 700 years old, and it is still in operation; Poland's oldest industrial enterprise.  Today the mine has about 2,000 excavated chambers on 9 levels, and about 320 km of tunnels. 

The Chapel of the Blessed Kinga was excavated starting about 1870, at a depth of about 100 meters. After the salt was removed the work of creating a chapel was started.  When the first miner/sculptor retired another took over. More than 20 years was required to complete the task.

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One wall of the Chapel showing some of the numerous salt sculptures.

The chapel is named for princess Kinga the Virgin. The web page   http://slavic.freeservers.com/Poland5.html   says:

"According to legend Princess Kinga was responsible for the mine's discovery when she asked her father for a Hungarian Salt mine as part of her dowry. Upon a vision she threw her engagement ring down the mine and traveled to Krakow where she had another vision and set upon having a mine sunk into the ground near Wieliczka. The first scoopful of salt revealed the Queen's ring."

According to the web site http://www.popesmass.com the princess Kinga (Kunegunda) was canonized in June 1999 by Pope John Paul II.

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One of the Chapel's chandeliers.  All of the crystals are carved from salt.

As well as being a tourist attraction (It is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site), the mine contains an underground sanatorium for treatment of tuberculosis and other diseases, and salt is still mined here.  Shortly after Staszek, Andy, and I visited the mine in 1992, an underground river broke into the mine, flooding the lower levels, and the mine was closed to tourists.  The problem has since been solved and the mine is again open, although I believe this year's tour covered less of the mine than the 1992 tour.

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Andy and Allen in the Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, Wieliczka Salt Mine. (1992)

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Page last updated May 02, 2004