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The Warsaw Voice » Business » March 29, 2012
Business & Economy
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Wieliczka Salt Mine: An Underground City
March 29, 2012   
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The salt mine in Wieliczka is the oldest site of its kind in Poland with a history stretching back to the Middle Ages. The mine is a major cultural landmark and was a source of wealth for the country for centuries in the past. Visited by over a million tourists every year, the historic underground site was among the first 12 entries on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.

Deep underground
Over the six centuries since the salt mine was established, around 7.5 million cubic meters of space has been hollowed out. The mine’s unforgettable Tourist Route takes visitors on a trip through impressive open spaces, beautiful underground landscapes with charming brine ponds and chapels which testify to local miners’ deep faith. The Tourist Route is the most valuable section of the mine in terms of history, geology and views. It starts with a 64-meter descent down the 17th-century Mikołaj Daniłowicz shaft and then proceeds to a 2-kilometer walk which takes visitors 135 meters underground to level three of the Wieliczka mine.

Strange as it seems, you can get closer to heaven when you are so deep under ground. The mine’s underground chapels encourage reflection and together, they form a unique pilgrim route called Szczę¶ć Boże (Godspeed). The glamorous St. Kinga’s chapel is where many couples tie the knot.
This summer, the first tourists will be able to take the Mining Route, a project financed with EU funds. Passing through one of the most valuable sections of the historic mine, the route will reveal demanding and austere caverns, making a visit to the mine an adventure and a challenge.

The Wieliczka salt mine is a site where nobody can get bored. The youngest tourists are greeted by a “spirit” called Skarbnik and as they explore the Solilandia fantasy land, they learn through play. Since nobody is too old for a good fairy tale, parents can enjoy being shown around the mine by Skarbnik and a gnome by the name of Soliludek.

Ball at the Warszawa, dinner at the Haluszka
The Wieliczka salt mine is a vibrant site whose beautiful chambers host balls, banquets, receptions, concerts, sporting competitions, conferences and symposiums. The largest chamber suitable for such events is called Warszawa (Warsaw) and located at a depth of 125 meters. Every year, glamorous New Year’s Eve parties are thrown at the Warszawa, followed by magnificent New Year’s concerts. The Jan Haluszka Chamber 135 meters underground is a perfect venue for banquets and concerts, while the smaller Jan Haluszka Chamber II is ideal for smaller functions.

The mine has a professional conference center inside the Drozdowice IV chamber 110 meters underground. The Drozdowice III chamber is, in turn, often used as an exhibition space, as the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a fascinating and astonishing place whose austere beauty inspires artists from around the world.

Visitors to the mine like to stop in the Witold Budryk chamber and try dishes prepared and served by the local, underground restaurant. The mine is like an underground city, complete with a post office, internet cafés and wireless internet access. Even over 100 meters underground, you can hear cell phones ringing.

Take a deep breath
Deep down underground, the mine is peaceful and quiet, sheltered from the noise and stress that bothers people on the surface. The special microclimate of the mine makes breathing easier as you inhale air that is free from any pollutants, allergens and bacteria and abounds in health-boosting microelements such as sodium chloride and ions of magnesium and calcium. The unique climate in the mine’s salt chambers brings relief to people suffering from asthma, allergies, diseases of the respiratory tract and metabolic disorders. The Wessel Lake and Stajnia Gór Wschodnich (Stables of the Eastern Mountains ) chambers 135 meters underground are where guests of the Wieliczka Salt Mine Health Resort can exercise, take a nap in the therapeutic salty air and relax by a tower used to concentrate brine. The above-ground Młyn Solny (Salt Mill) building houses various treatment rooms. Tourists and patients can also be accommodated in comfortable guest rooms.

Four-star Grand Sal Hotel
Near the Mikołaj Daniłowicz shaft and amid the quiet St. Kinga’s park stands a four-star hotel called the Grand Sal. The cozy hotel is housed in the reconstructed building of the former Łazienki Salinarne (Salt Bath). Constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, the building has been meticulously reconstructed using archival records and in accordance with a conservation officer’s recommendations. Subtly elegant, the interiors feature furnishings highlighting the hotel’s ties to the mine, such as paintings of underground scenes and a reproduction of a 17th-century engraving by Willem Hondius which adorns the reception hall. The Grand Sal restaurant serves European cuisine, regional specialties and dishes designed by the chef himself.
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