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Wieliczka Salt Mine - Poland

Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, Wieliczka Salt Mine Wieliczka Salt MineSalt Statues,Wieliczka Salt MineWieliczka Salt MineSalt Carvings, Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine is probably the most amazing mine in the world. A very popular destination, the mine is located just east of Krakow and has been the driving force behind the city's former wealth and influence. The mine has been producing salt for 700 years and now stretches to over 200km of tunnels over 9 levels.

Guided tours are compulsory - these are run regularly in English as well as less often for other languages. The tours last at least two hours - up to three in the busiest times of year - and involves a 2km walk through the mine, beginning with a dizzying 378 step descent down one of the shafts to the third level.

The mine was carved out by hand and is a maze of tunnels and chambers. Some of the wooden pit props are so old that with the weight of the ground above have compressed to the hardness of stone. The whole area is eerily lit, with the salt crystal walls surprisingly dark. Narrow tunnels lead to huge chambers, some with other entrances way above accessed by catwalk. The pit props are at times like a work of art, holding up the ceiling like a vaulted cathedral. Statues line the route, all carved from salt in intricate detail as the tour take you deeper in to the mine.

The highlight of the tour is the Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, patron saint of Poland. One of several chapels set in the mine complex, the entire chamber was hewn by hand from solid rock salt. This underground temple took over 30 years to complete and involved the removal of of 20,000 tonnes of rock salt. Everything in the room is made of salt, including the chandeliers and altarpieces. The pulpit is carved as a mountain with a castle wall, while carved panels depict Christian scenes in great detail.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is truly a unique place to visit - from the slow descent and maze of passageways to the huge vaulted chambers and speedy ascent in the lift. The Chapel of Blessed Kinga is truly stunning, a massive cathedral set a hundred metres underground.

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