Our European Odyssey

This blog covered our month-long trip to Eastern Europe -- specifically the countries of Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria and Slovakia.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Salt Under the Earth

Yesterday morning, we rode a minibus from Krakow to Wieliczka, home to a gigantic salt mine. On the way there, we saw another poster advertising a Guns N' Roses concert in Krakow. So they're not just big in Hungary. They must have quite a following across Eastern Europe. Speaking of American music, we hear '80s American pop songs everywhere. American music at its pinnacle...

But back to the salt mine. We took a two-hour tour that started with us descending 385 stairs. But by the time the tour was over, we had gone about 400 feet underground. (And the mine extends much farther down than that.)

The mine was started more than 700 years ago and at one point supplied more than a third of Poland's GDP. They only stopped actively mining salt six years ago. This mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the sculptures carved into the salt by the miners. Everything is salt, from the walls to the floors to the chandeliers and staircases.

Some of the sculptures we saw date back more than 400 years, but the crown jewel of the mine is one of the chapels. We say one because the mine has at least three that we saw on the tour and several more that we didn't see. So we even make it to church when we are 400 feet below ground.

This chapel features carvings that date from the 1870s to the 1950s. The carvings depict scenes from the life of Jesus -- from birth and the slaughter of the innocents to his teaching in the temple (pictured above) to the wedding at Cana to the Last Supper (pictured below), the crucifixion and Doubting Thomas. All of the carvings are made entirely of the dark gray salt native to the mine except the baby Jesus in the Nativity. The baby Jesus was done in pink rock salt from a nearby mine. This chapel was phenomenal and entirely done by three miners who were only amateur sculptors.

After the mine, we came back to Krakow and took time to, you guessed it, visit a few more Catholic churches. We then stopped in a poster gallery featuring original and reprinted Polish posters. Jake sure is glad he brought a poster tube because now it is filled. He picked up a couple of political- and travel-themed items.

We finished the day by attending a classical music concert at Saints Peter and Paul Church (pictured above at night). The performance was done by a five-piece ensemble (with a trumpet soloist). They performed six different pieces by J.S. Bach, Pachelbel, Albinoni, and Mozart. The crowning piece was Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" ("A Little Night Music"). It was phenomenal. The church was not only beautiful but also had great sound quality. It inspired us to listen to more classical music. The only downside was that we had to sit in the hard wooden pews for an hour and a half.

Today we are planning to visit the Jewish Quarter and a couple of museums. Thanks for reading!


At 5:28 AM, May 25, 2006, Anonymous Millie said...

I had not realized that Poland was such a Catholic country. Are the churches in good repair? I guess they are valuable as works of art and would have been kept of for that reason during the Communist regime.

I walked to work Tuesday and Wednesday, but it is going to be too hot to walk today. We really need rain. The spring rains have not materialized.


At 10:05 AM, May 25, 2006, Blogger Nichole said...

The salt mines look very cool, but I'm sure you'd rather be here. The server just crashed! Woo!

At 7:19 PM, May 25, 2006, Anonymous lora said...

Your pictures are all beautiful! I hope the pope thing works out.

At 9:10 PM, May 25, 2006, Anonymous Josh said...

Sounds awesome! I guess the sculptures are hard salt crystal, but are they brittle at all? And how are the chandeliers supported? And where did the miners find all the time to carve these ornate sculptures? It seems like it would really cut into their precious salt mining time.

And whewee, I agree with Millie. Its getting pretty warm up here, and its sweltering inside the plant. I can't wait to see what its like inside there during high summer.

Keep posting!


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