Okay. This was stupid on my part. But the tour guide on our trip down into the Wieliczka Salt Mine invited us to touch the walls of the cave and then lick our fingers if we liked. Stupid, stupid, stupid. For one thing, thousands of other visitors had likely touched those same walls, too, and for another thing, of course it tasted salty.
The entire caves were made of salt. The floors, the walls, the ceilings. The salty “cauliflower formations” and stalactites of salt. The sculptures carved down there (for no real reason). It was a salt mine. And I licked it. From that moment on, as I descended the 800 stairs, all I could think about was the famous Seinfeld line, “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” Except it wasn’t pretzels driving my thirst. It was simply salt.
One of the first sculpture displays we saw depicted the legend of Kinga, the princess who came from Hungary and asked her father King Bela IV to find her a salt mine as a wedding present. He did, and she threw her engagement ring into the mine opening. Once miners began excavating the precious salts or “white gold” from the mine, the first load contained her ring. Or so the legend goes…
Other sculptures inside the cave included one of Copernicus, Pope John Paul II, King Wenceslaus II, King Casimir the Great, and seven dwarves (minus Snow White).
All of these were made of salt, as was the chapel where services are still held every Sunday. In fact, weddings can be held there, too. I’m not sure who would choose such a salty venue for their wedding, but it is an option.
There are also two man-made lakes in the mine. The briny water is akin to the water in the Dead Sea. It would be hard to drown in the water because of the buoyancy of anything in it. And yet — people did drown when they were in a boat in the water and it capsized, trapping the passengers underneath.
The tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site lasts about 2 hours. It is interesting to think about the life that took place there in early days. There were horses and horse stalls down there, as well as several series of pulleys to transport the salt loads to the top.
Visitors also have the choice of taking the “Miner’s Route.” During this, they experience what it’s like to be a miner, measuring methane concentrations, digging and transporting salt, and exploring unknown chambers. Sounds like thirsty work to me!
Luckily, once visitors have descended 135 meters into the caves, there is a lift to carry them back up — and a snack shop where you can quench your thirst. Pretzels would indeed make one thirsty, but not as thirsty as licking the walls of a salt mine. Be forewarned!
If you were going to add a sculpture made of salt in the mine, who would you memorialize?