The “Wieliczka” Salt Mine, located in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland, close to Cracow goes back to the 13th century. It was until recently one of the oldest salt mines in operation, producing table salt up until 2007. The mine is the product of the work of tens of generations of miners. Each year it is visited by more than one million tourists from all over the world. It is also a world class monument, featuring among the twelve objects on the UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. Currently the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine combines centuries of tradition and modernity.
The attractions that await the visitors include dozens of statues and four chapels carved out of the rock salt by the miners, as well as supplemental carvings made by contemporary artists. The salt mine is 327 meters deep and is over 287 kilometers (178 mi) long. The Wieliczka mine is referred to as “the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland. 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.
The salt mine is also associated with Hungarian Princess Kinga. The princess was about to be married to Bolesław V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, her father wanted to give her gold and other precious valuables, however the princess said that this would not be necessary since her future husband was wealthy and his country lived in prosperity. Princess Kinga asked her father, Béla IV of Hungary, for a lump of salt, since salt was highly valued in Poland. Her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring, gifted to her by Bolesław into one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. When she arrived in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep hole until they come upon rock. The miners found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess’s ring. Kinga had become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital. The mine is one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments.
November 19th, 2018 saw the 40th anniversary of the inclusion of Wieliczka Salt Mine in the First List of UNESCO Cultural and Natural Heritage (1978) as well as the 5th anniversary of extending the entry into Bochnia Salt Mine and Wieliczka Saltworks Castle – the seat of the management of the Saltworks since the 13th century until 1945; the 650th anniversary of the preparation of a very important legal act: the Charter of the Cracow Saltworks (1368); the 500th anniversary of the Brief But Accurate Description of Management and Relations in the Wieliczka and Bochnia Saltworks in 1518, included in 2014 in the Polish National Register of the UNESCO “Memory of the World” Program. The aforementioned anniversaries were were the motive to inaugurate an International Conference of Mining Museums and Open-air Museums under the slogan “Let’s meet and exchange experiences!”. The conference is attended by specialists from 18 countries around the world. The objective of the Conference is to acquaint the international community of museum experts with the Cracow Saltworks as well as to present the achievements and characteristics of related historical mines of salt, coal, metal ores, gold, oil and gas, raw rock and sulphur from around the world.