In Poland, Europe's oldest salt mine, dating back to the 12th century, is now doubling as a major tourist attraction.
In Poland, Europe's oldest salt mine, dating back to the 12th century, is now doubling as a major tourist attraction. The mine, at Wieliczka, near Cracow in the south of the country, still produces hundreds of tonnes of salt every day, but its importance as a tourist attraction is increasing each month.
SYNOPSIS: A mine museum has been established on the top three levels, which start at a depth of 135 metres (433 feet). Here, the visitors can get a very vivid idea of the type of mining operation which took place in earlier times. This 17th-century horse-drawn treadmill was a central component of the salt-mining process of that age. The mine's oldest preserved pit dates back to 1253. All in all, the underground chambers and tunnels on nine separated levels stretch just over 200 kilometres (130 miles). The museum has a vast number of exhibits, tools and equipment from the mine's long and productive history. For several centuries, the Wieliczka miners amused themselves by doing carvings on the walls of tunnels and rooms, and eventually the art potential of salt sculpture was realised. Consequently, ornate underground chapels began to appear deep in the mine. Those now form the central attraction at Wieliczka, and all the year round, hundreds of visitors flock to see the underground carvings, pillars and sculptures.
Most of the particularly complex work was done by a pair of brothers, Josef and Tomasz Markowski, who toiled down in the Chapel for period of sixteen years, producing mostly original ideas, but in some cases, copies of works by the great masters.
The Wieliczka mine was owned by Polish royalty for several centuries. At times, It has been a major economic contributor to the country's coffers...during the 16th century, this mine, and one other, between them contributed 36 percent of Poland's national income annually. At that time, the town of Wieliczka consisted of a few mining families...now the population has topped the 13-thousand mark. The mine itself, in addition to being a museum and chapel, serves as a specialist clinic for the treatment of asthma sufferers. This part of the mine's many operations was set up in 1964, in a sanatorium some 200 metres (655 feet) below the surface. Asthma patients are taken down to the "Kinga" treatment centre for a few hours a day, and in some cases, they stay down for overnight treatment, to give them more exposure to the particular gases found at that level. Poland's Wieliczka salt mine is certainly earning its keep, economically, culturally and medically.
The patients go underground for a few hours a day and sometimes for the nights, too. The medical chambers for 30 people each are 200 m underground.
The film ends with outside shots of Wieliczka town.
The pit used for tourists comes from the middle 17th c. This pit is for tourist use only from 1935.