Wieliczka's fame meant that the mine already attracted a stream of visitors hundreds of years before the concepts of tourism or World Heritage were invented. Wieliczka welcomes us to marvel at its treasures, a monument to the work of Man and Nature.
The Wieliczka salt mine was opened in the early middle ages and, despite fire and flooding, war and destruction, it has remained in operation for almost 1000 years.
In recognition of both the importance and the impermanence of the mine, it was placed on UNESCO’s first World Heritage list in 1978.
More mortal, yet immortalised, celebrities include Casimir the Great, the mine's great royal patron; Copernicus, the Polish astronomer who visited the mine while studying in Cracow; Stanislaw Staszic, scientist and statesman who introduced geology to Poland.
Marshall Jozef Pilsudski, one of the leaders in the struggle for Polish independence from Austria, is the most recent addition to the tourist route, standing in the chamber that bears his name. The sculpture was completed in 1997 by Stanislaw Aniol who, in the proud tradition of Wieliczka, sees himself first and foremost as a miner.
It was in Staszica chamber that Nazi Germans planned to set up an aircraft engine factory in 1944, using Jewish labour. As it turned out they had to leave in a hurry, but I wonder what the salty air would've done to the metal components…