I’ve been working on the railroad (whoops!), – I mean, down the salt mine.
Well, not actually since 1996 has the salt mine outside Krakow seen any serious mining. Nowadays, the heavy work is done by the multitude of guides who lead around seven thousand tourists per day through this mine. (That’s no mis-print. Seven thousand tourists would make this just about the single most important tourist attraction in Poland).
Before that, it was in operation for centuries, going back to the times when salt was such a precious commodity that only the very rich could actually own a mine. Salt was so valuable that people were paid with it. Our guide told us that in fact the word salary (Latin: salario), derives from the word sal, for salt.
Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry for this mine:
Our trip here was a real treat, and a welcome change to other historical sites we have been viewing. We started by descending some hundred plus metres, on foot, and down steep staircases, something like the fire emergency drill from hell – the one where your office block is in the tallest skyscraper in town. Then we tuned our audio equipment and headphones into the frequency of our particular guide, and we set off at a pace as she led us to the first of the interesting chambers.
The tour covers only about one percent of the actual mine, through a series of chambers of sculptures, recreations, chapels, and a massive cathedral chamber. Everything (apart from some wax figures) has been carved from salt, and everything (or a good majority) has been carved over the years by the workers, talented amateurs, who worked in their own time. Mostly the colour is a granite grey, but it is real salt, including the walls and floor. You are welcome to lick the wall if you don’t believe that. The guide is witty – okay – she has done this a million times before, and some of the jokes are trite, but she keeps you amused and moving. After all, we are in her care and control for a good two hours or more.
Every so often, someone wants to get ahead of the game, and she is very skilled at bringing them back into line. Even gently saying at one point:
“I am the leader……… Follow the leader………….” – it sounded light and amusing the way she put it over.
Apart from the sculptures, the timber shoring of the mine shafts is impressive and extensive. The modern work is also impressive, metres and metres of walkways and balustrades perfectly finished. I couldn’t help but take some photos of that, let alone the sculptures.
By the way, I should mention that Bill took many of the photographs – as he has many of the others that I have posted. He is relaxed about me giving him the proper credit on each photo.
The crowning glory of the tour is a massive cathedral chamber, which includes a sculpture of The Last Supper which looks almost three dimensional. That is only one of the sculptures in this chamber. It is massive, with biblical depictions on all the walls. All the decorations are made of salt, including the chandeliers.
We ended our tour around three hundred and thirty metres underground, and yet we were still only around three levels down, with another seven below us.
There are souvenir shops underground (goes without saying really) and a fully catered bistro, so we had lunch underground as well. Why not. After a hard morning’s working – oh sorry – that should read, walking, we deserved a feed.
There is actually a lift in the mine, and it was a relief to know we could take that to the surface, rather than have to walk back up. It was narrow and cosy, only big enough for the four of us, a guide and the operator, but it was a fun – and very welcome ride.
Wednesday 31st July 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, Krakow Poland