Poland: Excursions from Krakow

A salt bas-relief depicting the Last Supper, seen in St. Kinga’s Chapel inside the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

KRAKOW, Poland — During a recent visit to Krakow in the south of Poland, my press group made short trips outside the city to visit attractions of interest to tourists.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, 45 minutes from Krakow, offered something on the lighter side of the travel ledger, but the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex of German concentration camps were considerably more sobering.

• First, the salt mine. I described its unique features in Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia.

Miners began carving figures out of salt in the 17th century. They created statues of saints and heroes and even the teardrops on chandeliers.

St. Kinga’s Chapel, a still-active church and wedding site, was laid out in the 19th century. It is a hard-to-fathom open space of about 177 feet by 50 to 60 feet and up to 40 feet high, with numerous bas-reliefs on religious subjects carved into the salt walls.

A statue of Pope John Paul II carved from salt, in St. Kinga’s Chapel inside the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

The most recent addition is a statue of Pope John Paul II at the back of the chapel.

Tourists can visit almost every day of the year, and there is a museum of salt mining on one of the levels as well. Rock salt was mined here without interruption from the 13th to the end of the 20th centuries.

The one-and-a-quarter-mile tourist route goes down three levels, to 380 feet below ground. The descent is on foot, but the exit is via tiny elevators.

Besides St. Kinga’s Chapel, we were shown numerous salt statues along a touring

An underground meeting room inside the now-defunct Wieliczka Salt Mine.

route, representing stories of mining, folk traditions, history and religion. The salt is not white but a grayish tone, which our guide called green. Also, dioramas, not of salt, illustrate the work of the mine.

The mine includes a ballroom with Wi-Fi hotspots, associated with an aboveground hotel, and may soon accommodate an underground hotel, our guide said.

The guided tour wraps up at a coffee shop/eatery where tourists can get refreshments before boarding the up elevator.

Souvenir shops outside the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

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