Salt Mines

July 2015

Ok, I have to be honest here. I allowed myself to visit a tourist site... and I admit, I actually enjoyed it. Normally I try to avoid the major attractions which tend to draw only visitors, in favor of wandering and trying to find something closer to the local experience. But because of certain circumstances and a promise to my Polish grandmother, I made a specific exception here. When my grandma finally got to return to the country in the 1990s, she was mesmerized by the mines. She loved the whole visit, but this in particular was her main highlight, so when I let her know I would be traveling to Poland, she had me promise to see the mines in order for her to have a family member to share the experience with.

Just prior to Poland, I had been in Budapest and had gone spelunking in the rough and wild caves below the city, so I was somewhat expecting a similar experience here. This was not the case. These mines were, instead, vast, open, well maintained and polished. The walkways were well lit, revealing the silver-gray walls, the ground was flat and level, and every space was large enough for groups of people to stand side by side rather easily. There was no need for any equipment.

Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed at first, as I usually seek things that are untamed and challenging in order to get rush. But this feeling didn't last long because what the mines lacked in rough nature, they made up for it ten-fold in amazing artwork. Lining every walkway and set up in every cavern were carvings and statues depicting moments in Polish history and folklore. And these were not just mini figures. These works were larger than life, incredibly detailed figures chiseled out of the salt stones themselves, by what mush have been highly skilled artists. Out of all of this, however, one thing stood out in particular to me. The salt chapel.

My grandma had already told me about this chapel, and from what I had already seen with the statues, I was expecting something pretty amazing. Then I walked in and it completely blew away all my expectations. Just to give some perspective, I am someone who has studied art, gone to several showings and galleries, but this was something so incredible, it was hard to believe it was real. Everything was so detailed and done with such a unique effect, it made the Sistine Chapel look like child's work. The etches in the wall even seemed to come out at you as if they were both three dimensional and alive.

I left with the whole experience greatly exceeding my expectations, even though it was a bit of a tourist draw. Also, I later found out that only about 2-3% of the whole mine is open to the public, and considering that part alone took over two hours, it completely blows my mind to think about how extensive it must all be. Oh yeah, and one more thing. All the statues are made of salt stone, so if you decide to lick one of them (I swear I only did it after I saw an Irish group do it!!), it will taste exactly like a hunk of table salt.