Wieliczka Salt Mine


“Salt makes us strong, it is the balsam of all things” -A. Schroeter, 16th c.

We often like to talk about “underground architecture”, infrastructures or subterra [as Rob Holmes refers in this twitt] and also like to write about these spaces created by non-architects. There is a complete interconnected city down there, created by systems of tunnels or drains, sometimes artificial but sometimes created from natural systems that are part of this substrate that lies just underneath our feet: mines.

This deposit of rock salt in Wieliczka-Bochnia has been mined since the 13th century. Located in the town of Wieliczka, is within Poland’s Kraków metropolitan area. It spread over nine levels and has 300 km of galleries with works of art, altars, and statues sculpted in the salt, making a fascinating pilgrimage into the past of a major industrial undertaking.

The crudely carved steps [carved from salt] are what the original salt miners had to carry 35kg sacks of salt up. Active mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding. Now, it has been transformed into a touristic attraction with a 3.5-km. tour for visitors (less than 1% of the length of the mine’s passages) that includes statues of historic and mythic figures. The largest collection of original tools and mining equipment illustrating the development of mining technology from the Middle Ages to modern times has been preserved here, in the museum.

During World War II, the salt mine was used by the occupying Germans as facilities for war-related production plants. The salt mine helped inspire the Labyrinth scenes in Bolesław Prus‘ 1895 historical novel, Pharaoh.

These kind of spaces fits in the “landscapes in search of an architect” mentioned at m.ammoth.us and we take these words from their post the city beneath the city:

One of the most remarkable things about geology, though, is that geologic forces convert time into distance, and so those salt beds lie a mere quarter-mile beneath the city’s surface. Around the beginning of the 19th century, the presence of these salt beds was discovered and miners — who are, in some very real sense, time travelers — began to translate four hundred million years into eleven hundred thirty-five feet of mineshaft.

Do the current underground cities need to learn something from these natural resources of information? As the unique acoustics of these places or the structural behaviour of its rock-walls, that had been there for hundreds of years. We seem to have lost the poetic behind architecture and maybe these images just help to get back our attention to these other “cities” that are important part of our history.

Recommended and related reading:

the city beneath the city at mammoth and derinkuyu or: the allure of underground city at BLDGBLOG.

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