Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Wieliczka Salt Mine in the southern Polish town of Wieliczka (GermanBig salts) is one of the oldest and most famous salt mines in the world. Together with the Bochnia Salt Mine and the Wieliczka Salt Castle, it forms the UNESCO World Heritage Royal Salt Mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia.
See → Geology of the UNESCO World Heritage Royal Salt Mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia
Salt production in the Wieliczka area is very old. When the salt springs were exhausted in the middle of the 13th century, salt brine was sought underground and rock salt deposits were discovered.
The Goryszowski shaft was sunk around 1280. Since the 15th century machines and since the 17th century horses were used in the mine. Until the 18th century, mining was carried out only in the upper part of the seam, to a depth of about 60 m; later, four more levels were created under the old workings, reaching to a depth of 340 m.
From the 14th century until 1772, the Wieliczka and Bochnia salt mines were united as the Royal Salt Works, making them the largest mining company in Poland.
In 1368, Casimir the Great issued a mining order regulating salt production and trade. The administration of the salt mines was the responsibility of a salt count, who had his seat in Wieliczka Castle. The income from the salt trade, which during its heyday from the 14th to the 16th century generated a third of the state’s revenue, was used, among other things, to pay for the construction of the Wawel, the Academy and the city fortifications in Krakow, as well as the army’s pay.
In 1913, the salt boiling plant, which is still in operation today, was built. After 1918, the mine became state property of the Republic of Poland, which reserved the state monopoly on salt in 1932. In 1965, the salt mine was renamed from Żupa Solna (Salt Mine) to Wieliczka. In 1976 the mine was included in the list of Polish national cultural monuments and in 1978 in the UNESCO list of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
In 1992, a water inrush triggered an open-cast quarry at the railway station and the monastery. A rescue operation secured the mine and the monastery. In 1993 the salt extraction was stopped. Since then, the mine has been used exclusively for tourism and as a sanatorium. In order to prevent the collapse of the mine and the town in the event of water ingress, the ingressing water is brought to the surface and evaporated salt is extracted from it. As a result, Wieliczka continues to be an important Polish salt producer.
In 1994, the Salt Mine became a Monument to the History of the Polish Nation and in 1989 was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger. In 2013, UNESCO extended the World Heritage Site to include the Salt Count’s Castle and the Royal Salt Mine in Bochnia, where rock salt has been mined since the 13th century.
In addition to the mining chambers, there is a tourist route down to a depth of 130 metres, a healing gallery for the treatment of respiratory diseases, and some of the halls can be rented for parties in the mine.
The humidity of the air breathed by visitors over many decades has caused severe damage to the sculptures, including discoloration and deformation. New ventilation systems have now achieved sufficient dehumidification in the main rooms to prevent further destruction.
Salt sculpture “Kinga” (left)
Salt miner’s horn
Well known are the copper engravings by Wilhelm Hondius from Gdansk from 1645 about the town and the mine as well as by Johann Gottfried Borlach from 1719 and by Johannes Esaias Nilson (1760-1790) about the mining operations.
Parts of the film Sexmission were shot in the mine.
- Johann Gottfried Borlach
- Johann Anton Seeling
- Johann Nepomuk Hrdina: History of the Wieliczka Salt Works. Published by Carl Gerold, Vienna 1842(digital copy)
- Jonathan Lee: 50 Great Adventures. Special places and the people who created them. Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-7913-3530-8
- Reiner Zeeb: Johann Esaias Nilson’s [copper engraving] “Wielicka Salt Mine” (1760) and the new partial catalogue. Kritische Berichte 30, Heft 3, 2002, pp. 79-85(PDF download from Heidelberg University, 4.4 MB)
- Kurt Schlünkes:Natural paradises and cultural treasures of mankind.The 19 new UNESCO world heritage sites. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
– Collection of images, videos and audio files
- Official website of the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine
- Wieliczka The salt of the Earth/
- www.schaetze-der-welt.de (Wieliczka Salt Mine)
- www.wieliczka.pl (Internet portal of the Wieliczka district with pages of the town and the mine)
- www.wieliczka.nu (Mining Museum in the Wieliczka Salt Castle)
- Europe’s Underworlds: The Wieliczka Salt Mine, Deutsche Welle (Video 4:06)