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Bochnia - The Lesser Known Polish Salt Mine

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My dearest friends,

Did you know that Bochnia is one of the oldest cities of Lesser Poland (Malopolska). The first known source mentioning the city is a letter of 1198, where in Aymar the Monk, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, confirmed a donation by local magnate Mikora Gryfit to the monastery of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Miechów (source).
The discovery of a major occurrence of rock salt at the site of the present mine in 1248 led to the granting of city privileges (Magdeburg rights) on 27 February 1253 by Bolesław V the Chaste. In the original founding document, German name of the town (Salzberg) is mentioned as well, since many residents of Bochnia were German-speaking settlers from Lower Silesia (source).
Due to its salt mine and favourable location, Bochnia, which belonged to Kraków Voivodeship, was one of main cities of Lesser Poland. In the 14th century, during the reign of King Kazimierz Wielki, a town hall was built, a defensive wall with four gates, a hospital and shelter for miners, and construction of St. Nicolas Basilica began (source).
In appreciation of Kazimierz Wielki’s influence on the development of Bochnia, his monument was erected on town’s market square in the late 19th century. In the 15th century, a school was opened, and in 1623, Bernardine Abbey was founded in Bochnia. At that time, many pilgrims from Lesser Poland and Silesia visited the town, to see a miraculous painting of St. Mary, kept at a local Dominican church (source).
The Bochnia Salt Mine (Polish: kopalnia soli w Bochni) is one of the oldest salt mines in the world and the oldest one in Poland and Europe. The mine was established between the 12th and 13th centuries after salt was discovered in Bochnia. The mines measure 4.5 kilometres (2.8 miles) in length and 468 metres (1,535 feet) in depth at 16 different levels. Deserted chambers, shafts and passages form a so-called underground town, which is now open to sightseers. The largest of the preserved chambers has been converted into a sanatorium (source).
The traditions of salt mining in the Bochnia area may be traced back 3,500 years B.C. The origins of the Bochnia mine as a mining plant reach back to the year 1248. The salt mine is the largest treasure of Bochnia lands thanks to its salt deposits which gave rise to one of the most significant economic centres of the medieval Malopolska region. Today the Bochnia Salt Mine is one of largest tourist centres of the region. Guests who arrive to the mine can travel along the Tourist Route leading from the August Level IV to the Sienkiewicz Level VI (source).
The route includes additional attractions such as a multimedia exposition especially appreciated by children. The mine can be visited on foot and part of the route may be explored in an underground train as well as sliding 120 meters down a chute connecting two levels of the mine. Many tourists consider sailing underground in a boat as quite an extraordinary experience (source).
Kaplica św. Kingi - Kopalnia Soli Bochnia
Kaplica św. Kingi - Kopalnia Soli Bochnia - details
The biggest and best preserved among all chapels in the salt mine is St. Kinga’s chapel. It was raised in 1747 under the name of St. Guardian Angels New Chapel. In 1782 the name was changed into Blessed Kinga chapel. The main elements of the chancel are: St. Kinga altar, St. Barbara altar, a pulpit carved in salt and salt sculptures of St. Kinga, St. John Nepomucen, St. Wojciech and St. Thomas from Akwin. Every year on Christmas Eve and on the Patron’s Day (St. Kinga’s) there are High Masses conducted in the chapel.
The Ważyn Chamber is considered the heart of the mine. It is one of the biggest conserved chambers in the Bochnia mine, placed on Sienkiewicz level. Its length reaches 280m. It is situated in the middle salt deposits creating effective patterns, the so called Bochnia stripes. It was exploited with breaks from 1697 to 1950s. Recently the chamber has undergone conversion to fit recreational and sanatorium purposes.
It is great to visit in a weekend, with friends :) That is how I did it! Bochnia is a lot less crowded then Wieliczka and in some parts it is way more fun and interactive. It has several multimedia spots but I believe the highlight of the trips, for everyone, will be the train ride down the shaft + the boat ride on the salted inner lake (those 2 are a must!). It may be a bit hard at the beginning and ending of the trip, going down & up with the elevator, where 8-9 people will be crammed up like sardines... but you can always close your eyes and try to focus on the fact that you will eventually get out ;)) You may feel slight pressure in your ears, but fear not, that happens due to the sudden drops that you will experience - it's just like plane take-off and landing, so be not scared!
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The first thing you will do, once you are out of the elevator, will be to board the train. Usually there must be at least 2 guides with you - we had a very nice couple! - one in front and one in the back. What I really liked is the fact that you could constantly see, at every stop, how they would count everyone, just to make sure nobody gets lost. You will have to wear something warm & good walking  running gear, as the salt mine is bigger than Wieliczka, and your tour guide will make you walk fast as hell! And I am not kidding + the tour lasts 3 hours and a half, so by the end you will be glad you will be able to sit down and rest ;) The tour takes you through the history of the mine, the kings that helped the Bochnia city, the dangers inside the salt mines, how the mining has developed since the very first time the started... and it will end up with an awesome trip on the salted lake :) and that you really should NOT miss! You will have to wear a helmet, go inside a long boat and try to keep your balance while the 2 people rowing will move the boat... be careful not to drop anything! ;) You will also have a 20 min break and you will be able to eat something there - I recommend the french fries and the burger (you will NOT have the time to order the pizza if you are taking the guided tour!). 
And if you must know, here are the prices - Mid-August 2015:
- trip Krakow - Bochnia + Bochnia - Krakow by bus (taken somewhere next to the Galeria Krakowska, in the back) costs around 15-20 zloty both ways. You can check one of the buses schedule here
- the entrance ticket (with the train and boat ride included) costs around 57 zloty (45 zloty the regular entrance fee + 12 zloty for the ferry crosssing) or 82 zloty (for the english guided tour the regular ticket is 70 zloty). For the latest price list for the entrance fee, check the online page.
Bringing you to a total of maximum 102 zloty - around 23-25 euros :)

Have you ever visited a salt mine? Where did you go and what is its name? Did you also feel your lungs refreshed by the visit? If I could, I would love to live in a salt mine for a week - no breathing issues, no fog, no smog... just clean and fresh air :)

P.S. I would love to do this again one day. Who would like to join me? :)

Yours truly,
The Twisted Red LadyBug That Loves Salt Mines :)