The descent to the first of the three levels included in the tour, 65 metres down, is either by clanking lift or wooden stairway. Hewn between the seven- teenth and nineteenth centuries, most of the first-level chambers are pure green salt, including one dedicated to Copernicus, which he is supposed to have visited.
The further you descend, the more spectacular and weird the chambers get. As well as underground lakes, carved chapels and rooms fuli of eerie crystalline shapes, the second level features a chamber fuli ofjolly salt gnomes carved in the 1960s by the mineworkers. The star attraction, Blessed Kinga’s Chapel, completed in the early part of the nineteenth century, comes on the bottom level, 135m down: everything in the ornate fifty-metre-long chapel is carved from salt, including the stairs, bannisters, altar and chandeliers. The chapels acoustic properties – every word uttered near the altar is audible from the gallery – has led to its use as a concert venue, and even, of late, as a banquet hall: ex-US president George Bush Senior was one of the first to be feted with a feast in his honour in 1995, a token of thanks for his support for anti-pollution measures in the city. Mass is still celebrated here every Sunday.
A museum, also down at the lowest level, reveals what a back-breaking job mining must have been – until the advent of mechanization, rock salt was laboriously crushed with hand-operated wooden machines. Pictures and manuscripts bear testi- mony to famous visitors such as Balzac, Emperor Franz Josef and Goethe who, as an official attached to the mining department in Weimar, found Wieliczka more impressive than the historical splendours of nearby Kraków.
Child £5.00 (3 years upwards to 15 years)
NB: Children under the age of 3 years are admitted free of charge