Wieliczka Salt Mine – Updated 23 August 2022
Wieliczka is a subterranean labyrinth of tunnels, shafts and chambers, underground saline lakes, chapels with altarpieces, majestic timber constructions and unique statues sculpted in rock salt. The size of the mine is staggering, it reaches a depth of 327m and extends via horizontal passages and chambers for over 287 km distributed over nine levels. Only a small part of the mine is open to the public.
Wieliczka Salt Mine Sculptures
The oldest sculptures were carved out of rock salt by miners; more recent figures have been fashioned by contemporary artists. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. The rock salt is naturally grey in various shades, so that the carvings resemble unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors expect. The carvings may appear white in the photos, but the actual carved figures are not white.
Chapel of St Kinga
The highlight of the mine is a vast chamber housing the ornamented Chapel of St Kinga. Everything that you will see within the chamber is made from salt including altarpieces and chandeliers. It took over 30 years for three sculptors to complete this underground temple, and about 20,000 tonnes of rock salt had to be removed. The rock salt in the mine resembles unpolished granite and its natural colour is grey, not white as many people might expect.
The older sculptures have been supplemented with new carvings made by contemporary artists.
Historically, Wieliczka was a working mine; however due to falling salt prices and flooding, commercial salt mining was discontinued. The mine has produced salt since the 13th century and was one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines.
Other highlights are the Salt Lake in the Erazm Barącz Chamber, whose water is denser than the Dead Sea, and the awe-inspiring 36m-high Stanisław Staszic Chamber.
If you’re worried about the air quality down there, great news: the mine’s special microclimate actually has a beneficial effect on asthma sufferers and those with allergies!
To get down to the 64-metre level of the mine, visitors must descend a wooden stairway of 378 steps. After the 3km tour of the mine’s corridors, chapels, statues and lake, 135 metres underground, visitors take an elevator back up to the surface. The elevator holds 36 persons (nine per car) and takes some 30 seconds to reach the surface.
Getting to the Wieliczka Salt Mines from Krakow shouldn’t prove too difficult or expensive. Regular buses run from the top of Starowislna Street opposite the Main Post Office, taking around forty minutes to get there. Be warned that buses are a little cramped and we advise you check departure details at one of Krakow’s tourist information offices as these routes chop and change quite a bit. You’re best asking a friendly Pole where to get off too, as this is a public bus not a tourist service.