Ladies and Gentlemen,
People have known, practically from the beginning of their existence, what marvels are hidden by the earth. Thousands of years ago, man started to mine for flint and other rock raw materials. Then, the magnificent qualities of metals were discovered, and man favoured especially the precious metals: gold, silver and platinum. Mining industry, methods of processing and use of copper, tin, iron and lead ores were developed. Man started to mine also for rock salt and sulphur. Next centuries saw flowering of the mining for hard and brown coal, and drilling was developed – petroleum and natural gas flowed. Man learnt how to mine for and use almost all elements and minerals to be found underground. Man is also an aesthete, appreciating those minerals, which are simply beautiful: diamonds and precious stones. However, up to the 20th century, only miners, mine owners and a restricted group of scientists were aware of huge value of not only the excavated materials, but also mines themselves – the underground labyrinths of adits, chambers, galleries and shafts, making up tens or even hundreds of kilometres of workings – and they appreciated not only the product: sold, transported and processed, but the tangible and intangible legacy as well, remaining on the location, under and above ground.
In some mining facilities, this realisation came early. Such was the good fortune of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, visited by tourists as early as at the end of the 15th c. The underground tourist route was created here at the turn of the 18th and 19th c., and in 1978 it was inscribed on the first UNESCO World Heritage List. Already in the middle of the 20th c., when the mining for salt was increasingly growing there in its scope, Alfons Długosz – a visionary and the founder of the Cracow Saltworks Museum – collected and protected against destruction old mining devices and tools, so that they could be presented to future generations. Europe was a pioneer in the area of protection and developing tourism infrastructure in old mines. In the last decades, many mining facilities on other continents joined this trend. Industrial tourism, including exploration of underground mining excavations, is more and more fashionable and common. Masses of ordinary mortals descend to the depths of the earth, admire the magnitude and structure of the workings, their protection, the devices and tools, emerging from the underground immensely impressed. The experience is different from that of sightseeing in a palace, church or natural monument. Sites, which had strictly utilitarian purposes for previous generations, today are perceived as monuments, a heritage; they acquired new value. Each of the hundreds of mines in the world is different, unique, worth seeing. Therefore, there is a value in all endeavours and initiatives undertaken by their owners, administrators and enthusiasts with a view of protecting them and making them accessible. The Wieliczka Salt Mine, due to the decades of its presence on the tourist market, has become a brand recognised in the whole world. Today it is visited by 1.7 million of tourists annually. The other part of the historic Cracow Saltworks, the Bochnia Salt Mine, even though it started to be a tourist attraction only in the 1990s, year by year hosts increasing number of tourists, with almost 200,000 at present. Undoubtedly, that is a success as well.
By organising a conference of mining museums, we would like to introduce the Cracow Saltworks, with its history and specifics, to the international environment, and to tell not only about its success, but also about the problems encountered in the creation of this tourist destination. Year 2018 is a special year in the history of this place. In 2018 we will celebrate the 650th anniversary of drawing up the “Charter of the Cracow Saltworks” (1368); the 500th anniversary of creation of the “Brief But Accurate Description of Management and Relations in the Wieliczka and Bochnia Saltworks in 1518”, included in the Polish National Register of the UNESCO “Memory of the World”; the 40th anniversary of inclusion of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in the First List of UNESCO Cultural and Natural Heritage (1978) as well as the 5th anniversary of extending the entry to the Bochnia Salt Mine and Wieliczka Saltworks Castle – the seat of the management of the Saltworks since the 13th century until 1945. The celebration of the above jubilees is in line with one more anniversary – a 100 years of Polish independence.
The motto of the conference, however, is: “Let’s meet and exchange our experiences”. We would like not only to present our mining facility, but also to get to know and introduce other such places, and to create a forum for specialists from all over the world for the exchange of their knowledge, experiences and ideas. We are interested in mining facilities with underground tourist routes and/or mining museums which are already operational; or facilities with such routes under construction or with them to be organised in the near future. We would like to get to know people involved in activities aiming at protection of the mining heritage all over the world and at making it available – owners, administrators, managers and employees of historic mining facilities. We will also welcome scientists from mining higher education schools and research institutes, specialists from institutions, organisations and associations related to functioning of underground mining tourist routes and museums. Our intention is to identify problems and challenges to be faced by such facilities; provide specific examples of how they can be developed; make our experiences – both the good ones and those less beneficial – known. In addition, the conference will be an excellent occasion for showing off some of our initiatives of international importance and encouraging you to participate in them. Their realisation will probably take many years, but they will certainly facilitate establishing and functioning of mining museums and contribute to giving them an appropriate rank in the considerable worldwide family of museums.
Our museum has organised conferences on similar subjects already four times, but so far they were attended by experts mainly from Polish mining facilities. This time we would also, and primarily, like to reach out to international facilities. We are under impression that it would be especially valuable if European specialists shared their knowledge and experiences with administrators of sites from outside of Europe. Hence, we would like to strongly encourage representatives of mining facilities in Asia, Northern America, Southern America, Australia and Africa (we are thrilled by the fact that tourist routes in mines are constructed even in the last one of these locations) to attend the ICMUM2018 conference. The range of topics for conference papers is extensive which will certainly make the task of preparing a speech easy for every speaker, while allowing one to find something of interest among speeches delivered by other conference participants. On behalf of the Cracow Saltworks Museum in Wieliczka and the co-organisers, I would like to invite everyone interested to take part in the conference.
Director of the Cracow Saltworks Museum in Wieliczka
The head of the Organising Committee of the ICMUM2018 Conference