Saint Kinga’s Chapel-subterranean Salt Cathedral of Poland
A LONG HISTORY OF KINGDOM OF SALT
Once upon a time, a man found an unusual, muddy gray stone in a well. But then the stone turned to be salty! This spurred the man to dig deeper and deeper. Because of his discovery, over time, the first mine shafts were dug in Wieliczka, reaching down into the huge deposits of rock salt. The Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in southern Poland, near Krakow, is over 700 years old.
Legend has it that Queen Kinga, wife of Wladislav, then the King of Poland, found the mine in the 13th century. Kinga was a Hungarian princess set to marry the sovereign of Krakow, Poland. When asked what she wanted as a wedding gift, Kinga declined jewels and gold; she believed they only brought unhappiness and misery. She wanted something that would serve her people. So she asked for salt. Kinga was awarded the largest and most prosperous salt mine in Hungary. Before leaving for Poland, Kinga threw her ring into the mine. When she became the Queen of Poland, Kinga directed her subjects to an area rich in salty deposits. They started digging and hit something very hard, discovering a large salt rock with her engagement ring inside! The townspeople continued digging and found the largest and most unique salt deposits in the world-and established the Wieliczka salt mine. Kinga later became known as the patron saint of the Wieliczka, as she is attributed to finding the mine. When Kinga’s husband died, she gave up the throne and all of her possessions to become a Clares nun and dedicated the rest of her life to serving the poor and people suffering from leprosy. Kinga lived to be 68 years old, which was considered then as a fairly long life. In the middle ages, miners continued to dig out Wieliczka salt deposits. It was soon discovered that the miners were not susceptible to the black plague that took 50 millions lives in Europe, and their salt mining horses lived up to 6 years longer than their counterparts above ground. In the end Kinga was right: salt is necessary for good health, making it worth more than any jewels and riches in the world. She was canonized on June 16th, 1999 by Pope John Paul II.
Today it is hard to imagine that in the past, salt was as valuable as gold and silver. We have plenty of it now, but once, wars were waged over this valuable commodity. Salt trade was subject to many restrictive laws, and the mines were the property of kings and princes. Salt made tempers run high, because it not only added flavor to dishes, but was also used to preserve food. Wieliczka Salt Mine was the crown jewel of Polish rulers. They drew a huge income from it and already in Middle Ages, they made sure it was a well organized enterprise where first workers unions were created to protect workers ( Żupy krakowskie”). Revenue from the mine was used to develop the city of Cracov, founding the second-oldest central European university ( Jagiellonian University), construction of so called Cloth Hall that was a major center of international trade an old version of today’s stock exchange or giant supermarket just to mention few. With the passage of time new ideas were born, kingdoms fell, new continents were discovered, while Wieliczka mine continued operations and grew into the mighty labyrinth that it is today. The realm that was created in the precious salt rock stunned its famous visitors like Copernicus( Mikolaj Kopernik), Goethe and Chopin. Today it attracts millions of tourists from all corners of the earth. In 1978, Wieliczka Salt Mine was placed on the original UNESCO World Heritage List as one of ten most outstanding natural places in the world. The industrial chapter of the mine is now definitely closed. Today’s underground is primarily a historical monument, a respiratory hospital and an arena for extraordinary events.
TOURIST ATTRACTION FOR AGES
Monarchs, scientists, artists attracted by the fame and beauty of the underworld, have been coming to Wieliczka for 600 years. Times and fashions change , but the modern tourists are delighted exactly by the same things that amazed their predecessors over the centuries. Salt mine is a living underground creation where over the centuries , several dozen places of worship were created using rock salt and wood as a building materials. The crown jewel of the mine is St. Kinga’s chapel that is entirely carved into salt block and called an underground cathedral of Poland. Over the course of the centuries Wieliczka grew to an subterranean salt city that houses concert hall that resonates with thousand voices, reflected off the crystal of salt and underground vaulted ceiling. The amazing sound of music in this environment cannot be compared to the best musical venues in the world. It also houses health resort, basketball courts, restaurants, catering halls, event and convention rooms, museum, interactive exhibits, game rooms, library, museums and many magnificent works of art made out of salt.
A CRYSTAL TREASURE In the 19th century, miners encountered Crystal Grottoes, filled with halite crystals formed in Miocene. To date, no similar chambers have been found anywhere in the world. The air in the mine, saturated with a salt mist, is very healthy and it is a reason why the mine is used as a healthcare facility since 19 th century.
MORE DURABLE THAN METAL AND CONCRETE
Many local forests were cut down to use the lumber for shoring up the corridors and chambers of the mine. Over the centuries a sizable forest have been placed in the depths of the earth, since wood turned out to be one of the best materials for the construction of mine reinforcements. Wood soaks up the salt and becomes so petrified that its hardness exceeds that of hardest construction material including steel and concrete that decays in that environment.
The modern Wieliczka Salt Mine consists of nearly 2400 chambers and 178 miles of corridors. The salt labyrinth is spread over nine levels and reaches a depths of 1073 feet.
VIEW IT ON GOOGLE
Much can be said about the underground wonders of Wieliczka. The first reports of visits were written by Renaissance humanists, who tried to put it the extraordinary things they have seen into words. Today we have pictures and videos, as well as Virtual tour of of the tourist route through Google Street View, but the mine is best seen and experienced by a visit in this Temple of Faith and Ethos of Work that set a precedence on intentional scale.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH
In 1843, Dr. Felix Boczkowski discovered that the presence of the air in the salt mines in Wieliczka in Poland, saturated with ionized salt particles, had healing effects on people with pulmonary and respiratory disorders and opened a first underground hospital in the excavated chambers of the mine.
Today, the Wieliczka hospital operates as the largest underground rehabilitation and treatment center in the world. It is the world leader in providing innovative rehabilitation and treatment of respiratory diseases, by combining both the natural micro-climate of the underground salt excavations and top practices of contemporary medicine. It is operated by a Polish Ministry of Health.
Saint Kinga’s Chapel-subterranean Salt Cathedral of Poland
Salt contains elements essential to life: iodine, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron, selenium and copper. When they are lacking or in short supply in the human body, it can lead to serious problems with physical and mental health. For example, the selenium contained in salt has a huge impact on halting skin aging processes. As a result, Polish health resorts and health and beauty centers offer treatments involving selenium-saturated salt solutions. Many tourist guidebooks on Poland feature detailed descriptions of the therapeutic value of the natural salt caves in Wieliczka and Bochnia. They offer comprehensive treatment of asthma, allergies, respiratory diseases, skin diseases/blemishes, and obesity. Health resort is located 135 meters underground, in a chamber called Lake Wessel. It offers unique therapeutic benefits, and has a great aesthetic appeal. Depending on severity of patient’s condition average stay in the underground hospital ranges from seven hours to three weeks. The air is absolutely pure, saturated with therapeutic ions of sodium chloride, magnesium, calcium and other micro elements. Expert care of doctors and physiotherapists provide treatments for the body and soul that cannot be compared with anything available at a conventional health care facility.
WIELICZKA AND BEYOND
The mine in Wieliczka is unique on a global scale, but the therapeutic properties of salt are successfully used by other centers. Due to the advanced technology and increasing demand in salt therapy caves are now constructed above ground using timber and large quantities of crystal rock salt. The special atmosphere of these artificial caves is due not only to the great care taken in recreating the landscape forms of natural caves but also in a beneficial micro climate necessary for proper salt ionization for best effect therapeutically . To make it utterly relaxing a beautiful lighting brings out the structures of lumps of crystal salt clusters, soft music is played and temperature is pleasantly higher compared to natural caves. The space is saturated with bio-elements necessary to maintain human health and an atmosphere of absolute relaxation is created free of the unpleasant wind and noise of underground climates.
Therapeutic benefits of staying in salt caves include
. Treatment of respiratory diseases and allergies
.convalescence after serious illness
Treatment of neuroses and neurotic states
Rehabilitation for sport/accident injuries
Alleviating physical and emotional exhaustion resulting from working in highly stressful jobs