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Thursday, October 1, 2009
The salt mine at Wieliczka, near Krakow in southernPoland, is a World Heritage Site. It was one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines today open for tourists. Until 2007, this mine has been worked continuously since medieval times, since the 13th century. The Wieliczka salt mine is a unique tourist attraction – like a vast underground city. The Royal salt mine has a labyrinth of tunnels, pits, traverses and chambers, all hewn out by hand from solid salt, with beautifully chapels and underground lakes. About 1.2 million people visit the mine each year.
The historic Salt Mine, which has been in operation for at least 700 years, lies on nine levels going down to a depth of 327m and it is over 300 km long. There are 2,040 chambers connected by 200km of passages. In 1978 the mine was included in the list ofCultural and Natural Heritage by UNESCO. The exhibition of the salt mine museum holds an extensive collection of objects related to the mine and mining: old tools, mine machinery, geological finds, and historical mementoes. All visits are in guided groups; the tour takes about two and a half hours.
To get down to the 150-meter level of the mine, visitors must walk down a wooden stairway of some 400 steps. The mine contains numerous churches and rooms for leisure activities. In the Cathedral even the chandeliers are made of salt. The walls are covered with sculptures of saints and scenes from the bible.Sometimes the room is used for weddings.After the 3 kilometer tour of the mine’s corridors, chapels, statues and lake, visitors take an elevator back up to the surface. The elevator holds 36 people and takes roughly 30 seconds to reach the surface.