When was rock salt first mined in Wieliczka?The Wieliczka salt mines are some of the oldest in Europe, with rock salt being discovered there in the 13th century. The mines received their charter from King Casimir III the Great in 1368, which laid down the rights of the miners and the laws that regulated the production and trade of salt. In the 15th century, approximately 350 people worked in the mines, producing up to 8,000 tonnes of salt per year. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines (as they came to be known) flourished as the largest mining company in Poland. From 1772, the region was ruled by Austria, and the mines were extremely important for the economy of the large and powerful empire. Tourism was recorded in the mines as early as 1774, with the oldest tourist route through the mines dating back to the 19th century - it soon became another source of income for the company, in addition to the sale of their products. Commercial mining ended in 1964 after nearly 700 years of operation as a result of the rising costs and the new competition from sea salt, which meant that running the mine became economically unviable.
How and when did the salt get into the mountain?The salt in the Wieliczka mines is older than modern humans. During the Miocene era, 13.6 million years ago, the plates of the earth in central Europe shifted to create new mountain ranges, including the Carpathians. Salty seawater pooled in the depression in front of the Carpathians, which left salt deposits behind as the region developed, leaving layers of rock salt buried between 30 and 330 meters underground. The salt mined in the Wieliczka and Bochnia mines was extremely pure and was sold as Adlersalz, or ‘eagle salt’, in barrels featuring the white eagle of Poland.
What’s there to see in the salt mines?The tourist route takes visitors through stunning chambers and halls carved into the rock salt, past mystical underground saltwater lakes, and through magnificent rooms and even chapels. One highlight is the chapel of St. Kinga, a patron saint of miners, which features furniture and artworks carved out of rock salt. On the Miners’ Route, groups of up to 20 visitors can take part in an interactive guided tour that will teach them all about the difficult but exciting daily lives of the miners who worked in the salt mines. There’s also a special Pilgrim’s Route, which can be booked by appointment only and is led by a priest, which focuses on the chapels built in the mine and allows time for prayer at each stop. After you’ve finished your chosen route through the salt mine, you can also pay a visit to the Krakow Salt Works Museum to see artifacts and learn even more about the salt mining community!
Is a trip to the salt mines suitable for children?Absolutely! The route through the elaborate tunnels and chambers is an adventure which all ages will enjoy, though parents are asked to supervise their children during the tour. The Miners’ Route is designed to be an interactive experience suitable for visitors aged 10 and over, and kids will enjoy dressing up in overalls as working miners and exploring. Changing tables are available in bathrooms and high chairs are also available at the mine’s restaurants, but the use of strollers is not advised as the many steps on the route mean any strollers will have to be carried over some distance.
How long should I plan for a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mines?A tour of the Tourist Route, including a trip to the museum, takes about 3 hours. The interactive Miners’ Route tour takes about 3 hours, so you should plan extra time to visit the museum afterward if you’d like to see it. If you’d like to spend longer in the tunnels in order to feel the healing effect of the salt, then it’s recommended that you plan a stay in the health resort! The resort offers a range of day treatment options as well as overnight stays.
What’s the deal with the healing tunnels?The air in the mine’s tunnels has very low levels of pollutants and allergens, so spending time breathing in tunnels can have a positive effect on sufferers of asthma, bronchitis, and other conditions that affect breathing. The health resort in the Wieliczka Salt Mines offers a range of treatments both underground and overground, from physiotherapy to specialized breathing exercises and massage, as well as the possibility of overnight stays underground. Please note that these are private spa stays which aren’t subsidized by health insurance providers.