The underground trade
Helmet, lamp, absorber, protective gear – this is the equipment of a śleper – a novice miner setting out onto the Miners’ Route in the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine. The adventure begins in the Regis Shaft.
The modern elevator takes tourists deep into the underground. The journey in the brightly-lit cabin is over in a blink of an eye. The silver doors slide open, and one step forward takes the visitors into another, fascinating world.
Tasks for the Bold
The greenhorn miners look uncertainly around the pit. They adjust their helmets, check their lamps and glance at the guide, whose expression tells them clearly this will be no ordinary tour. No “painting on the left”, “sculpture on expedition. Gasman, measurer, porter, timberer – in the mine, people of various professions athe right” for them. The Miners’ Route is not only for learning but also for experiencing – turning theory into practice, twisting a rope with one’s hands or turning the draining wheel. The foreman has assignments they hand out to members of the nd talents are needed. Does everyone know their job? Ready? Then let’s go!
A journey through time and space
Chamber after chamber, corridor after corridor, the unique underground realm opens before the eyes of the novice miners. The narrow beam of light from the mining lamp reveals details in the dark – an old footprint, the black stains left on the cribbing by a fire nearly 400 years ago.
Hidden in each chamber carved out of the salt and in every piece of wood is centuries-old history. The thick trunks shoring up the Boczaniec Chamber were cut down in the 15th century in the primeval forest described by Jan Długosz. In the Fortymbark Chamber, a stable was set up in the 17th century for the horses that worked underground. In Rzepki there was once an enormous horse mill, and the memorial salt obelisk in the Franciszek Karol Chamber once delighted 19th-century visitors.
Those who are ready to bow their heads can traverse the narrow passage cut in the cribbing in the Boczaniec chamber and reach a small niche where a chapel was located centuries ago. The miners dedicated it to Kunegunda, or Kinga. Time has since destroyed the sculptures – the figures of the saints can only be imagined in their soft, leached shapes. Only a sliver of the altar serves as a reminder that hopeful prayers were once sent up to Heaven from this place.
From greenhorn to miner
Step by step, the group of greenhorns, under the watchful eye of the foreman transforms into a mining brotherhood. The guide shows the way, but only for a time – there comes a moment when they hand over the map to their charges, who in turn attempt to lay out a course by themselves. Drifts, crosscuts, intersections – which way? In case of trouble, the foreman gives hints and encouraging smiles, because willingness and an open mind are also important, and only practice makes a master.
Lasting about three hours, the tour of the Miners’ Route is over surprisingly quickly. The tourists might miss the sun, but coming up to the surface is also bittersweet. The freshly-minted adepts of the mining trade can feel it in their skin that they have only begun to explore the underground mysteries. The historic “Wieliczka” Salt Mine has many more secrets and stories that are only waiting to be discovered. Maybe next time? With friends or family, perhaps? The route can also be explored by children 10 and older. It will be a pleasure to once again put on a helmet, sling a lamp and absorber over the should and set out deep underground in the foreman’s footsteps.