Poland’s Underground Salt Cathedral
Located 135 meters (443 ft) underground is the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine in southern Poland. Entered into the UNESCO First World Heritage List in 1978, it was also proclaimed a Historical Monument by the President of the Republic of Poland in 1994. The mine is located in the town of Wieliczka and is 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. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding. Now a museum, the mine’s attractions include dozens of statues, three chapels and an entire cathedral that has 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.
The mine is a product of work of tens of generations of miners, a monument to the history of Poland and to the Polish nation. Below you will find a gallery of the mine along with additional information about its history.
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 gray 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. [Source]
A wooden staircase with 378 steps provides access to the 64 metres (210 ft) level of the mine. There is a 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) tour of the mine’s corridors, chapels, statues and lake, 135 metres (443 ft) underground. An elevator provides access to the surface. The elevator holds 36 people (nine per car) and takes some 30 seconds to reach the surface. [Source]
The salt deposit in Wieliczka formed in the Miocene Epoch, 13.6 million years ago. In the rift located in their foreground, known as the pre-Carpathian basin, a huge sea was formed. Various types of rock sedimented in the reservoir, rock salt layers formed as well. Salt deposits formed in many parts of this huge reservoir. The Wieliczka deposit formed over the period of approximately twenty thousand years. It owes its final shape to the orogeny which resulted in accumulation of salt deposits causing a several-fold increase in their original thickness. [Source]
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