Wieliczka - Salt Mine has been in existence for well over 700 years. It stretches over a vast area and we were welcomed to it's entrance by a rather large, Knight in Armour!
After climbing down 378 stairs to level 1, the guide tells you about the safely rules: no smoking, do not touch any electricity installations, tall people beware of low head room! When passing through a ventilation break, keep the door open! Do not stray from your tour group and do not touch any carvings or exhibits. Please inform the guide if you feel sick! Oh! Don't forget one last thing ... if you should see a faint, flickering blue light in a side corridor, it's nothing to worry about at all! It's the Will-o-the-Wisp, the Spirit of the Salt Mine or legendary keeper of the salt, giving us a sign that he's close by, keeping a careful eye on us!
This is the Nicolaus Copernicus Chamber and the place of honour has been assigned to a monument of one of Wieliczka's most illustrious visitors ever! It was in around 1493 that Copernicus visited the mine with his colleague and friend, Bernard Wapowski who was later to compile the first detailed map of Poland. This chamber goes back to the 17th century and boasts a four and a half metre salt statue fo Copernicus.
The Chamber of Legend is more a wide passageway and not so much a chamber. This is the legend! Princess Kinga lived in the 13th century. She was a Hungarian princess and was betrothed to Boleslaus the Bashful, the Duke of Cracow. When she set off to the land of her fiance, she wanted to bring with her a special gift. She was told that Poland had no salt. Hungary had plenty and so she spoke to her father and he added the salt mine of Maramures to her dowry. As she approached the city of Cracow she had a strange feeling. She dug a deep pit and threw her engagement ring into it. Later as she had her retinue dug to find the ring, they found it stuck in a large lump of salt. The deeper they dug, the more salt they found - Poland then had enough salt for the whole country, even today!
Philip and I were standing in front of the Crucifix in the Holy Cross Chapel. There is a fairly small altar there with a huge wooden cross above it, made by an anonymous sculpture. This chapel leads to the bigger, Chapel of Blessed Kinga (remember the Hungarian princess?)
This is the most beautiful chamber of all and is filled with beautiful chandeliers all made from salt chrystals. Their light glistens to dispel the darkness of the chamber in this place of worship. Everything in the chapel is made of salt, the floor, ceiling, walls, altars, balustrade and the pulpit. This chamber is still used for church services and weddings. The accoustics inside there are incredible. Inside the chapel you will also find the beautiful scultpure from salt of the Last Supper.
At last we come to the Jozef Pilsudski Double Chamber. It was a pair of two chambers in which excavation work was being done. Sometime later the bottom of the chambers filled with brine up to about 5 metres. An unusual boating lake was formed and tourists were ferried across it. In 1915 one of the ropes holding the boats snapped and several tourists lost their lives. These trips were then cancelled and this interesting wooden security construction was put up for the safety of the tourists.
It was an interesting trip and on looking though our photographs, I was a bit disappointed at the quality. We didn't have a digital camera in those days, and the quality is poor! However, they're good enough to remind us of the wonderful trip we had! Next week, we'll visit the Polish ski resort, Zakipane!