Wieliczka - Salt Mine, Wieliczka
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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In 1790 Johann Wolfgang Goethe set off on an eight-day tour of Tarnowskie Góry, Cracow, Wieliczka and Częstochowa, as companion to Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar. Goethe was interested in mineralogy, hence he found the salt mines at Wieliczka particularly enthralling. At this time the Swedish diplomat Lars von Engelström wrote: “The most splendid engravings and images can never adequately reflect the size and nature of these mines. The walls, hewn in rock salt, sparkle when illuminated by a beam of light as if they were made of crystal”. The cavernous spaces of the Wieliczka Mine were known from engravings published since the days of Ladislaus IV, but it only became more widely known when a picture showing the mine in cross-section was published in the Encyclopédie.

The history of salt extraction at Wieliczka is among the longest in Europe, its origins dating back to the middle Neolithic (c. 3500 bc). The discovery of rock salt occurred in the latter half of the 13th century, when work began on the construction of a mine that was to remain in continuous use from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The Cracow Royal Salt Mines, an enterprise encompassing both Wieliczka and the nearby mine at Bochnia, was established in the 14th century. It generated as much as 36% of the royal treasury’s income. The mine lies beneath the town of Wieliczka and is distributed over nine levels (located at depths of between 57 m and 327 m). The excavation pits extend over an area of c. 5.5 km long and c. 1.5 km wide. Over seven centuries the mine has yielded c. 7,500,000 m³ of material. Excavations have produced 2040 chambers, over 200 km of galleries, 26 shafts and around 180 staple pits. The mine houses a unique collection of wooden, treadwheel-operated hoisting devices. Its unique and immense subterranean architecture consists of chambers protected against collapse by timber cribs, roof supports and braces, in some instances of very elaborate design (as seen in the Drozdowice, Michałowice, and Dworzec Gołuchowskiego Chambers), as well as excavation chambers in which salt pillars have been left to support the overlying strata (e.g. in the Barącza and Jakubowice Chambers). The monumental relief of the mine’s roofs and walls, its unparalleled forms reflected in brine pools, and its decorative salt sculptures and bas-reliefs create a series of entrancingly beautiful interiors that can be encountered nowhere else. The chapel dedicated to St Kinga (patron saint of miners), lit by salt crystal chandeliers, is surprisingly large and richly furnished. The chapel was founded in 1896; it is 10-12 m high, 54.5 m long and 15-18 m wide. The interior of St Anthony’s Chapel (17th-century) retains its Baroque architectural and sculptural details. The historic Daniłowicz Shaft was excavated in 1635-1640.

Interest in this fascinating underground world grew rapidly. Renaissance humanists flocked to see Wieliczka, recording their visits in numerous descriptions of the mine, rhymes, songs and poems. Scholars, artists and diplomats also came to visit in the 17th century, though the mine could only be entered by obtaining a special licence from the relevant authorities, which was no easy task. It was not until the final quarter of the 18th century that the Austrians provided visitor access to some of the old excavation pits. Further attractions were added to the visitor trail throughout the 19th century. A ferry carried passengers across the charming lake in the Archduke Rudolf and Archduchess Stéphanie Chamber (known as the Marshal Józef Piłsudski Chamber since 1918), and it was noted that “the view seen by those on board of the astoundingly fantastic chamber walls, and the lights reflected in the water, brought to mind the mythological boat of Charon, evoking strange effects and moods”. Poles regarded a visit to Cracow’s Royal Salt Mines as a patriotic duty - a means of paying tribute to Poland’s former glory. Famous visitors to Wieliczka include Frederic Chopin, Jan Matejko, Henryk Sienkiewicz and Ignacy Jan Paderewski to name but a few. Today, millions follow in their footsteps, and a visit to Wieliczka leaves no-one unmoved.

General information

  • Type: technical monument
  • Chronology: lata 80. XIII - koniec XX w.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Daniłowicza 10, Wieliczka
  • Location: Voivodeship małopolskie, district wielicki, commune Wieliczka - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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