Photographer's Note

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, in the town of Wieliczka, in Poland's Kraków metropolitan area, has been in continuous operation since the 13th century, and still produces table salt. It is one of the world's oldest operating salt mines (the oldest is at Bochnia, Poland, 20 kilometers from Wieliczka).

The mine reaches down to a depth of 327 meters, and is over 300 km long.

The Wieliczka salt mine features a 3.5 km tourist route that includes statues of historical and mythical figures, all sculpted by miners out of the rock salt. Even the crystals in the chandeliers are made of salt. Also featured are beautifully carved chambers, chapels, an underground lake, and exhibits that illustrate the history of salt-mining. The salt mine is justly referred to as "the underground salt cathedral of Poland."

Some 800,000 visitors view the mine every year.

Over the centuries, visitors to this site have included Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, Dmitri Mendeleev, Bolesław Prus, Ignacy Paderewski, Robert Baden-Powell, Jacob Bronowski (who filmed segments of The Ascent of Man in the mine), Karol Wojtyła (the later Pope John Paul II), former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and crowned heads.

During World War II, the salt mine was used by the occupying Germans as housing for war-related production plants.

The awe-inspiring, ancient labyrinthine salt mine helped inspire the Labyrinth scenes in Bolesław Prus' 1895 historical novel, Pharaoh.

In 1978 the Wieliczka salt mine was placed on the original UNESCO roster of World Heritage Sites.


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