Nine centuries of mining in the Wieliczka mine produced a total depth of approximately 327 meters (1,073 ft) and over 287 kilometers (178 mi) of passages as well as 2,040 caverns of various sizes. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding, but the mine continued to produce table salt until 2007.
Millions of visitors, including the crowned heads of state, notables including Copernicus, Chopin, Goethe and Sarah Bernhardt and even a Pope (John Paul II) among them, have explored the subterranean world of labyrinthine passages, giant caverns, underground lakes and chapels with sculptures in the crystalline salt and rich ornamentation carved in the salt rock. In 1978 the mine was placed on the original UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The experience begins with a walk straight down several flights of wooden stairs giving you a real sense of descending into the mine. As you tour, plaques indicate the date that each level was excavated starting with the oldest excavations nearer the surface and progressing to later dates as you go deeper underground.
"Princess Kinga, a Hungarian noblewoman was about to be married to Bolesław V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, she asked her father for a lump of salt, since salt was prizeworthy in Poland.
Her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Bolesław in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock.
The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess's ring. Kinga thus became the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital."
Even the floors are carved salt simulating floor tiles.
The interiors of the large mine caverns and “cathedral” have marvelous acoustics and are often used for musical performances.
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