Wieliczka Salt Mine Is an Incredible Polish Underground Amusement Park – by Nina Strochlic (The Daily Beast – November 14, 2013)


Ever windsurfed across a saltwater lake or visited a 400-year-old chapel—underground? Try it out in Poland, at an unbelievable mine-turned-subterranean playground outside Krakow.

More than 1,000 feet underground in Poland, seemingly impossible things are happening. Hot-air balloons have been launched. A bungee jumper has taken the plunge. A windsurfer has been propelled across still saltwater. A brass band has bellowed on its instruments.

Stretching nine levels beneath the earth, Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine is roomy enough to fit the Eiffel Tower and then some. For centuries, miners have been carving out spectacular chapels and sculptures of the country’s most beloved figures underground, not far from the medieval city of Krakow.

And in the past half century, as salt mining slowed and then halted, and tourists began arriving, the cavernous chambers have been transformed into an incredible underground amusement park of grand halls, health spas, museum-worthy art, and record-setting spectacles.

The descent into the chilly salt mine caves is 800 steps down the shafts. But the winding venture is worth the trek. Hundreds of years of excavation has left seven gorgeous chambers carved into the salt rock throughout the floors. Today they host hundreds of guests at weddings, business meetings, concerts, fashion shows, and galas.

The uniqueness of the underground space attracts a variety of thrill seekers. In the largest room accessible to visitors, with a soaring, 100-foot ceiling, the first ever underground balloon flight took place. The mine’s large underground lake once was an unlikely playground for an adventurous windsurfer, who glided along the water propelled by a giant fan. Even the chandeliers casting a golden glow on many of the rooms are made from rock salt.

Wieliczka is one of the world’s oldest salt mines still in operation, though it stopped producing table salt in 2007. Records of extraction of the element reach back to the 12th century. Just over 100 years later, documents show miners building salt snowmen in the mine. (The practice was barred in 1876.)

Today, statues carved by generations of self-taught sculptors are scattered throughout the cavernous rooms. The largest of those statutes is carved out of the weight equivalent of three elephants worth of salt.

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