For those that haven't already done so, I suggest reading Part I of this post here.
Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow - A History
As previously mentioned, the Wieliczka Salt Mine dates back to the 13th century, and was a significant source of wealth and prosperity for the city of Krakow in an age where salt had both practical uses and significant financial value.
It's also home to a number of surprising truths.
Did you know that...
The mine has over 300km (186 miles) of tunnels, spread across nine levels, with the deepest being just over 320m (1049 feet) underground.
The word 'salary' actually stems from the use of salt as payment. This dates back to the Roman times, when
Roman soldiers were partly paid in salt. It is said to be from this that we get the word soldier – ‘sal dare’, meaning to give salt. From the same source we get the word salary, ‘salarium’.
When it came to working in the Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the most dangerous jobs going was that of the gas burner. Methane gas, which is lighter than air, would rise to the top of and catch in the pockets of each chamber as they were built. Given the use of candles/torches and methane's tendancy to explode when comprising 5-15% of air and exposed to a naked flame, it was not uncommon for the gas to create a deadly explosion in the mine. Thus, the gas burner's job was to light a long pole and try catch any pockets of methane in each chamber, covered with not much more than wet clothing to protect themselves, to 'safely' rid the chamber of the gas.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine has no ramped or angled entries, and can only be entered vertically. Whereas today tourists have the option of well-lit stairs or even a lift, workers back in the day would have had little more than ladders and their own candle stick to make their way down.
As mentioned in Part I, horses were used to help with some of the heavier machinery, alleviating the workload of the miners. They would be lowered down slowly with a giant block of salt as a counterbalance, and one of the giant wheels shown on the tour of the mines today is the original machine and over 300 years old.
The Erazm Baracz Chamber, situated 100m (328 feet) underground, is over 9 metres (29 feet) deep, despite looking shallow due to its clarity. It is so saturated that it holds 320g of salt per litre.
The Chapel of St. Kinga
When you think of salt mines, you don't necessarily make a leap to thinking about churches or chapels.
And yet, deep underground in the outskirts of Krakow, lies the Chapel of St. Kinga, or Kaplica Sw Kingi in Polish.
The church measures a whopping 54x18x12m in length, width and height. For reference, this is roughly the equivalent in length and width to an Olympics-standard swimming pool, which measures 50x25x2 metres.
[For those not familiar with the metric system, the chapel measures 177x59x39 feet, while a regulation Olympic swimming pool comes in at 164 feet in length, 82 feet in width and 6 feet in depth].
Whatever your preferred unit of measure, it's worth taking time to think about that, and the fact that everything from chandeliers to carvings statues and altarpieces, are all made of salt.
I've heard and read different accounts of how long it took to create the chapel: one source suggested it took 30 years for one man and then his brother to complete, while another put the figure at 67 years, with only 3 craftsman taking it in turns one after the other.
Salt is incredibly difficult to carve out of, so one mistake could put an entire statue onto the scrap heap to have to start again. This only makes the 3D carving of 'The Last Supper' all the more impressive.
For me, this was one of the standout sights of the entire tour:
In addition this is a working chapel, so there are regular services and it is possible to have weddings here.
And so we come to a close (of part II, in any case)
Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts, feedback, suggestions or experiences of the salt mine of your own, let me know!
Part III, my thoughts on the closing dinner of #Steemfest3, to follow soon.
Franck / @goodwithtravels