As an American, I so rarely get a glimpse of things that are old. "Old" in America means a couple hundred years, so it's incredibly difficult for me to wrap my mind around age in this way. As if that wasn't enough, this place is staggeringly huge. There are over 150 miles (245km) of passageways and 2400 chambers that range in depths from 210-1,070 ft (64-327meters). Only 1% of the total mine is accessible to tourists, including the the 378 steps you have to walk down to start the 2 mile (3.5km) walking tour. It takes about 3 hours.
Something to remember is that salt used to be really valuable. Without refrigeration, it was the only thing that could keep foods from spoiling, and NaCl is vital for moving blood around the human body.
Workers in the mine were well paid, and only worked 7 hours per day. (No slaves or child laborers were ever utilized.) Once per week they could bring home as much salt as they could carry in their hands, so even with all of the occupational hazards, it was a pretty good job.
|This is about the size of a small person. An entire village could be purchased with a block of salt this large.|
It's a pretty amazing place. I found the old wooden tools to be most impressive. There are machines built in the 17th century that are in perfect working condition. This is because the wood is impregnated with salt and preserves it. Metal corrodes very quickly and wasn't used. Any of the same wooden tools on the surface have all deteriorated into nothing, so it's a great record of how exactly people worked.
And of course, the carvings in every chamber are stunning, especially because most of them were made by amateurs.
|It's hard to think about everything being made from 100% salt.|
One of the best parts of the tour is the very end, where a multi-story elevator carries groups back to the surface world. The ride takes almost a full minute and I was legitimately scared in that "reassure myself that it has to be ok" kind of way. Eight people go into each "floor" of the elevator and it's a little more than cozy. If you didn't get to know your tour group before, by the time you get off the elevator, you will know what brand of shampoo they use. The contraption is all metal and makes a tremendous sound. After descending so deep, it's just impossible not to think about what the drop would be like. I recommend getting on first, because the elevator rises to let more people on underneath you, and in the meantime you are plunged into darkness and waiting without any clue as to what's happening. Then at ground level, the people below you are let off first, so you get a little jolt of a drop down when it's your turn. It was a good way to wake up after the tour.
|Like a Polish Universal Studios ride|