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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Poland - Wieliczka Salt Mine (1978)




This deposit of rock salt in Wieliczka-Bochnia has been mined since the 13th century. Spread over nine levels, it has 300 km of galleries with works of art, altars, and statues sculpted in the salt, making a fascinating pilgrimage into the past of a major industrial undertaking.

The salt mine in Wieliczka is a unique development in the history of mining, because the rock salt deposits were mined without interruption from the 13th to the end of the 20th centuries. The scale of excavation in this mine is very large, with corridors, galleries, and chambers, as well as underground lakes, totalling more than 200km in length on seven levels between 57m and 198m below ground. The largest collection of original tools and mining equipment illustrating the development of mining technology from the Middle Ages to modern times has been preserved here.
Not only was the Wieliczka salt mine a valuable economic raw material was mined, it also inspired the creation of exceptional works of art, such as chapels with altars and figures made of this atypical material.
Wieliczka attracted visitors because of its uniqueness and beauty almost from the beginning of its existence. The first tourist route was opened in the middle of the 19th century.
Criterion (iv): The Wieliczka salt mine reflects all the historic stages of development in mining techniques from the 13th to the 20th centuries, while the devices and tools preserved there document the old systems of working the deposits, drainage, lighting, and ventilation of the mine in a unique manner by world standards.


The salt mines of Cracow exemplify a large industrial establishment, administratively and technically well organized, the continued existence of which has been ensured by the process of adaptation since the Middle Ages. The progressive development of mining processes over the centuries is perfectly illustrated there, in all its stages, owing to the consolidation and conservation of the old galleries, each with the installations of their time. A comprehensive collection of mining tools displayed inside the mine constitutes valuable material evidence of the evolution of mining technology over a long period of European history.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in southern Poland near the city of Cracow, has been worked as a source of rock salt since the late 13th century. The total length of the galleries, in which are to be found wells, corridors, labyrinths, excavations of all sorts, rooms, and even chapels cut out of the salt, with altars, pulpits and statues, is some 300 km, connecting more than 2,000 excavation chambers on nine underground levels. It extends 5 km to the east and west and 1 km to the north and south, reaching a maximum depth of 327 m below the surface. Over the centuries, miners have established a tradition of carving sculptures out of the native rock salt. As a result, the mine contains entire underground churches, altars, bas-reliefs, and dozens of life-size or larger statues. It also houses an underground museum and has a number of special-purpose chambers such as a sanatorium for people suffering from respiratory ailments. The largest of the chapels, the Chapel of the Blessed King, is located 101 m below the surface; it is over 50 m long, 15 m wide and 12 m high, with a volume of 10,000 cm3 . The subterranean lake, open to tourists since the 15th century, completes this curious complex.

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