The salt mine of Wieliczka consist of nine levels of rock salt Galleries. It reaches a maximum depth of 327 meters and 63 meters at 1st level. The subterranean exploitation zone extend 5,5 km to the East-West and 1,5 km to the North-South. The strict protection area only encompasses 5 first levels (the oldest ones) which incorporate the length of 3,5 km and the width of 1 km.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in the town of Wieliczka, is within Poland's Kraków metropolitan area. It had been until 2007 in continuous operation, producing table salt, since the 13th century. It was one of the world's oldest operating salt mines (the oldest being in Bochnia, Poland, some 20 kilometers distant from Wieliczka).
Mine for touring
Active mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding. Currently the mine is a major tourist attraction. The mine reaches down to a depth of 327 meters, and is over 300 km long. The Wieliczka salt mine features a 3.5-km. tour for visitors (less than 1% of the length of the mine's passages) that includes statues of historic and mythical figures, all sculpted by miners out of rock salt. Even the crystal chandeliers are fashioned out of rock salt.
Also featured are beautifully carved chambers, chapels, an underground lake, and exhibits on the history of salt mining. The mine is frequently referred to as "The Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland."
About 1.2 million people visit the mine each year. Over the centuries, visitors to this site have included Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, Dmitri Mendeleyev, Bolesław Prus, Ignacy Paderewski, Robert Baden-Powell, Jacob Bronowski (who filmed segments of The Ascent of Man in the mine), Karol Wojtyła (who later became Pope John Paul II), former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and many others.
During World War II, the salt mine was used by the occupying Germans as facilities for war-related production plants. To get down to the 150-meter level of the mine, visitors must walk down a wooden stairway of some 400 steps. After the 3 kilometer tour of the mine's corridors, its chapels, statues and lake, visitors take an elevator back up to the surface. The elevator holds 36 people (9 per car) and takes roughly 30 seconds to reach the surface. The salt mine helped inspire the Labyrinth scenes in Bolesław Prus’ 1895 historical novel, Pharaoh.
In 1978 the Wieliczka salt mine was placed on the original UNESCO roster of World Heritage Sites.