Cracow Saltworks Museum in Wieliczka
The Museum is a state-owned, independent, scientific, research and educational institution, subject directly to the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
The initiator of establishing the museum was Alfons Długosz – Polish painter, teacher and social activist living in Wieliczka. The directors of the local salt mine, who in the 1950s planned to liquidate many of the workings, granted their consent on his exploration and collection of old tools, devices and mining machines to protect them from destruction. The objects gathered from the excavations made up, as early as in December of 1951, the first exhibition, organised by Alfons Długosz in the Warsaw Chamber and open for visitors. In the years to come, Alfons Długosz’s collection was expanded on and he acquired 14 post-excavation chambers for the purposes of their exhibition, all located on the 3rd level of the mine, at the depth of 135 m underground. Repair and adaptation works of the chambers were finalised by Polish Ministry of Art and Culture. By the Ministry regulation of 23rd March 1961, the exposition was transformed into an independent central museum. Owing to the support and financial aid from the state, one of the most modern mining exhibitions could be organised in the Wieliczka salt mine. Moreover, it was then the biggest mining museum in the world. Practically all issues related to the Cracow Saltworks Museum, organised chronologically or thematically, were presented. Next to geological, archaeological and historic exhibition, there was a most valuable, and unique on a world scale, collection of wooden hauling machines from the 16th-19th c. The underground Cracow Saltworks Museum exhibition became available for visitors in 1966 on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the Polish state. In the following decades, further 3rd-level workings, presently taking up the space of 7.5 km2, were adapted for the purposes of the museum exhibition. It features about 2500 original pieces.
The seat of the museum is the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka, located near the salt mine. The oldest castle buildings date back to the 13th c. Middle Ages-origin can be ascribed to the Central and Northern Castle, towers, walls and saltworks kitchen. From the beginning of its existence up to 1945, the castle was the seat of the management of the Cracow Saltworks, i.e. the salt mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia, saltworks, craft workshops, warehouses and magazines. Until 1772, the Cracow Saltworks, including the Castle, was the property of Polish Kings and it was managed on their behalf by mine administrators. Between 1772 and 1918, the Saltworks belonged to the Austrian House of Habsburg, and since 1918 up to this day – to the Polish state. Throughout the centuries, the castle was redeveloped and expanded. It was devastated by fires and raging wars. The last serious damage was dealt by the World War II. Following 1945, the castle buildings housed healthcare facility and a kindergarten. Owing to the striving of the Cracow Saltworks Museum and the financial aid granted by the Ministry of Art and Culture, in 1976 building and renovation works were commenced, which would restore the castle to its former look and significance. The works were completed only in 1996. In the meantime, next museum exhibitions were organised and open for visiting in the Castle: archaeological one, one devoted to the history of Wieliczka, and the most precious salt cellars collection in Poland. The building is the place of storage of an invaluable collection of historic books and mining maps, as well as saline archive, handed over to the museum by the salt mine. Saltworks Castle was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013.
Cracow Saltworks Museum employs presently over a hundred people – specialists in various fields. According to its charter, the Museum business activity involves the Cracow saltworks, i.e. the salt mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia together with Subcarpathian saliferous terrains and other salt mines, both operational and fully exploited. The range of subjects and the time-frame of the Museum employees’ research works are extensive and diversified. Geological studies concern Miocene (the origin of the salt deposit), and the archaeological – the Neolithic (beginning of the settlement and salt evaporation industry in the region). In the domain of history and immaterial culture, the range of research covers the period between the 13th c. and the end of the 20th c. It concerns the development of the salt mining and salt evaporation technology, the role and significance of the salt business in the history of Poland, mining towns, art and ethnography. One of the essential tasks of the museum is the preparation of studies on history and conservation for protective works on the historic excavations in the “Wieliczka” and “Bochnia” Salt Mines; another is issuing opinions and conservation permits regarding these areas. Additionally, the museum is still collecting, preserving, cataloguing cultural goods, and making them available for visitors in permanent and temporary exhibitions. Apart from that, it engages in intense publishing activities (academic publications, albums, guides, catalogues, monographs). In museum, a special attention is paid to educational activities, encompassing Wieliczka and the surrounding communes, including Cracow. Educational classes, workshops, lectures, contests and open-air events are organised for children, the youth and adults. The Annual “Feast of Salt” draws thousands of participants to the Castle. The Museum maintains a close cooperation also with other museums, research facilities and universities from the country and abroad, and takes part in international projects. In the years to come, it is planned to expand on the castle exhibition surface and arrange new temporary and permanent exhibitions. It will be possible owing to a successful acquisition of a new building, located right next to the salt mine, moving museum offices to it and a further adaptation of the castle rooms.
The “Wieliczka” Salt Mine S.A.
The mine is a sole shareholder state joint-stock company, coming under the Polish Ministry of Energy. It follows on the activities of the company which has operated continuously for almost 750 years. Presently, the main focus of the company is the preservation of monument – securing the world-unique mine workings, mitigating natural risks, systematic decommissioning of the non-heritage section of the mine, and conducting commercial tourism activities.
The salt deposit present in the Wieliczka area was formed approx. 13.6 million years ago, in a shallow Miocene sea. It runs from east to west in a narrow band reaching 10 km in length, up to 1.5 km in width, and is located relatively shallow below the surface of the earth. Thousands of years ago, the upper layers of the deposit were exposed as a result of leaching, in the form of brine springs. Human occupants of the area started to exploit the springs as early as in the Middle Neolithic (3500 BCE). Signs of settlement and organised production of evaporated salt were left on this area by subsequent communities from the Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as from the Roman and the early Medieval periods. Already by the 11th-13th century, Wieliczka was a salt evaporation centre well-known in Poland and in its neighbouring countries under the proud name ‘Magnum Sal’ (Great Salt). The salt workers’ settlement was soon seen to grow into a small town. Trade and manufacturing practices flourished, and in 1290 the town was granted the urban charter.
A breakthrough came about in the second half of the 13th century, when rock salt was found in the Wieliczka area. First extraction shafts were erected then in the modern-day town centre. The salt evaporation and extraction were soon entirely taken over in this area by Cracow dukes – and later on by Polish kings. Already in the 13th century, the Wieliczka company became merged with a similar undertaking in Bochnia, 30 km distant. This resulted in the creation of the Cracow Saltworks, which operated in this form until 1772. Throughout this period, it remained the largest manufactory in Poland, and one of the largest in Europe. The Crown Treasury during the Medieval times would see up to a third of its income coming from the Saltworks. The Polish kings funnelled revenues from the ‘white gold’ into maintaining the court in Cracow, paying wages of their officials, construction of castles and churches, as well as the founding the first Polish university. The emerging organisational structure of the saltworks was codified in the ‘Statute’ issued by king Casimir the Great in 1368. The statute enshrined in law the old practices, while establishing new regulations aimed at improving efficiency and increasing revenues from the saltworks. They defined rules for salt making and for mining the rock salt, and regulated miners’ labour and salt trading terms.
In the early history of the mine, all work was done by hand, using very simple mining technique. Starting with the half of the 14th century, the Regis shaft became the main extraction shaft. The few accompanying shafts from that period no longer exist. All shafts were at most 50-60 metres deep, reaching the first level of the mine. Underground, the diggers would use pickaxes to make corridors in search of clusters of salt fit for extraction. Once a salt lump or salt bed was found, the extraction work would begin. The miners would start by using iron wedges to separate rectangular (vertical and horizontal) salt blocks from the walls, before breaking them into smaller, cylindrical or barrel-shaped lumps, so-called ‘loaves’, each weighing from 300 kg up to 2 tonnes. Salt pieces and loose salt were also mined by diggers and loaded by them into barrels. Another group of labourers – the haulers – would carry loose salt in niecki (type of basin) and płochy (backpacks made of lime tree bast or hemp), while barrels were transported to the shaft on wooden sledges (szlafy). Loaves were rolled with the use of beech clubs. Once at the shaft, they were taken to the surface using hemp ropes or ropes made of lime tree bast. The ropes were attached to the drums of manually operated cross-shaped winches and hoists. In the middle of the 15th century, the miners started to employ horses – the animals were harnessed to large wooden hoists, so-called Polish-type treadmills, which were mounted on the earth’s surface, at the mouth of a shaft. The mills were covered by protective structures with conical roofs. Beginning in the 16th century, horses would also work underground, pulling sledges with salt along mine galleries.
Apart from salt mining, work on securing and draining the mine was taking place from as early as the 14th century. In order to protect the workings from collapsing, simple wooden supports were being erected, as well as larger wooden structures called cribs. As for water, it was collected into ducts running along the mine workings and drained into sumps at the bottom of the shafts. From there, it would be hoisted to the surface in cebry (wooden buckets to carry the water) and bulgi (cow leather waterskins). The Wodna Góra shaft was erected below the Saltworks Castle in the first half of the 14th century, just for the purpose of draining the mine. The brine would be transported from the shaft via a duct system, to the nearby saltworks, so-called karbaria. Up until 1724, evaporated salt remained a very important part of the overall salt production activities in Wieliczka. For almost four centuries, the sales revenues from that branch of production were used to cover the costs of rock salt mining. From as early as at the end of Medieval period, the mine in Wieliczka would begin to attract the attention of contemporary humanists, scientists, artists and aristocrats. Presumably in 1490 the mine was visited by Konrad Celtis and in 1493 by Nicolaus Copernicus. However, up until the 17th century, visiting the mine as a guest was restricted to special occasions, and required personal permission from the Polish king.
The mine entered a stage of rapid expansion in the 16th century. New shafts were established: Boner, Bużenin, Lois, Lubomierz. Extraction works below level 1 were initiated, while examination through underground fore-shafts was conducted. The mine was employing a few hundred people and had an annual yield of approx. 16 thousand tonnes of rock salt. In the 17th century, additional shafts were erected, including: Górsko, Janina, Ligęza, Leszno, Boża Wola. Between 1635 and 1642, the Daniłowicz shaft was established, through which salt deposits were exploited in the area of the modern-day tourist route. In the same shaft brave tourists could be lowered into the mine in special seats (szlągi) attached to the rope of the treadmill. A more comfortable mode of descent was provided for high-status visitors to the mine in the second half of the century, in the form of winding stairs in the new Leszno shaft, replacing ladders. However, the stairs collapsed towards the end of the 17th century. Kilometres of new underground corridors were built, and exploitation of the second level of the mine was already under way, at the depth of approx. 100 metres. Also, treadmills started to be used underground, as a means of transporting the excavated salt through fore-shafts from lower parts of the mine. At the end of the century, some workings turned into vast chambers, reaching 20 metres in height (modern-day chambers of Mikołaj Kopernik, Kazimierz Wielki, Pieskowa Skała, Drozdowice, Michałowice). However, little care was given to securing the depleted workings. Chamber collapses were not unheard of, creating sink holes in the town above and leading to loss of life and property. Methane explosions and fires were also occurring, including the disastrous fire in the Boner shaft in 1644, which would rage in the mine for the next 8 months. The shaft top and wooden securing works were consumed by the fire, causing cave-ins and sink holes. 20 miners died. The second half of the 17th century was a period of economic decline of the Saltworks, stemming from poor financial situation and outdated production organisation. In accordance with the requirements of royal grants, generously awarded over the centuries, a large part of the produced salt had to be sent free of charge to numerous institutions of the Church, as well as to secular recipients, not providing any income to the Saltworks. The mine stewards would sometimes fail to fulfil their obligations towards the king. As a result of wars and civil unrest rampant in Poland, there was a collapse of the salt trade.
The rule of the Saxon House of Wettin dynasty in Poland (1697-1763) brought to the Saltworks the much-needed reforms and improvements. The stewardship over the mine was taken over by mining specialists from Saxony, introducing new technological thought and work organisation. Extraction shafts were extended to deeper levels, new types of treadmills, so-called Saxon-type horse gears, were implemented and new maps of the workings were drawn. Gunpowder started to be used for blasting galleries. Also introduced were new methods of drainage, ventilation and securing of workings. Around that time many of the mine chambers were decorated with late-baroque reliefs, ornaments and statues. Underground chapels were also erected. The practice of salt evaporation from brine in outdated saltworks located next to the shafts was abandoned. The reforms of the Age of Enlightenment were also applied to the miners. Work safety regulations were implemented, together with fire control instructions. The annual salt output reached approx. 40 thousand tonnes, and the mine became much more profitable thanks to the Saxon administration improving salt sales and trade across the country. Once again, the mine became an important mining centre, to which such mining academies as Leoben (Austria), Příbram (Czech Republic) or Banská Štiavnica (Slovakia) would sent their students and graduates for obligatory training.
The 1st partition of Poland in 1772 brought the Polish royal rule over the Cracow Saltworks to an end. The mine stewardship was taken over by the General Office for the Saltworks with its administrator, representing the Habsburg Monarchy. New drawing and descent shafts were constructed (the Cesarz Józef shaft – the modern-day Kościuszko shaft; the Cesarz Franciszek shaft – the modern-day Paderewski shaft; the Cesarzowa Elżbieta shaft – modern-day the Święta Kinga shaft). On the other hand, the existing shafts were extended down to levels 3-6 of the mine, or decommissioned. The Hungarian-style treadmills introduced at that time were capable of hoisting 2 tonne loads in one go, from the deepest parts of the mine. Hemp ropes for use with these treadmills, 200 fathoms long (360 metres), were made in a rope manufacturing facility, located in the neighbourhood of the modern-day railway line. The workings dug at that time using the blasting method could reach sometimes huge sizes (e.g. the modern-day Staszic chamber reached the height of 50 metres). These workings were secured with wooden cribs, pillars and timbering. The Austrian administration from the beginning was deeply interested in developing tourism in the mine. As early as in 1774 a tourist route was created, running through 28 of the most presentable chambers of levels 1 and 2, and the ‘book of strangers’, i.e. a registry of visitors, was established. The tour was 3-hours long and would normally attract representatives of European royal houses, aristocracy, officials, church dignitaries, prominent artists, scientists and travellers. The sightseeing was accompanied by music, shows of fireworks, and included watching miners at work. In the 19th century, the visitors included e.g.: Frédéric Chopin, J.W. Goethe, Dmitri Mendeleev. The visitors number towards the end of the 18th century oscillated around 120 persons per year. By the end of the 19th century, it was approx. 4000 per year.
The mine in Wieliczka saw a technological breakthrough only in the second half of the 19th century. In 1861 the first steam-powered winching machine was installed in the Regis shaft top (almost 100 years after the invention of steam engine by James Watt). Over the next 20 years, all of the battered horse-powered treadmills were replaced with steam machines. The wooden roofs over the treadmills disappeared from the town landscape, replaced by brickwork shaft tops and boiler rooms. The shafts started to be equipped with steel ropes and elevator cages for transporting people, horses and materials. The year 1861 witnessed in the mine the introduction of iron carts on rails, pulled by horses, resulting in significantly improved efficiency of underground transport. The miners started to use manually-operated drills. Salt was exploited by blasting, with the main product taking the form of crushed salt, produced in salt mills. Rail tracks were laid between the shafts and the Wieliczka railway station, and from 1889 steam locomotives replaced horses in pulling rail cars loaded with salt. By the end of the 19th the century, annual salt production reached 140 thousand tonnes. Salt sales were managed by the Imperial-Royal Sales and Distribution Office. However, a few of the magnate families from Wieliczka also managed to profit from wholesale salt trading (Commercial Salt Company) – these profits included elevation to aristocracy and a number of palaces, beautifying the Wieliczka landscape. The Wieliczka town was growing and changing. In the 1830s an idea emerged to transform Wieliczka into a state-of-the-art balneotherapy spa. A bathing centre was built near the mine, making use of the therapeutic qualities of the mine water. The facility included bathhouses, a sauna for inhalation therapy, a brine drinking fountain, guest rooms and a theatre. In the second half of the 19th century, the Park of St. Kinga was constructed – an interesting composition with a pond, and an open theatre where the salinary orchestra would play. The saltworks administration was also taking care of the miners. The mine employees enjoyed the access to their own hospital, free medication from the saltworks pharmacy, and retirement coverage for themselves and their families. Miners’ children attended kindergartens ran by nuns and financed by the mine. Later, they could attend the Mining School, established in 1861. Brickwork housing projects were built for the miners, as well as bathhouses for their use – free of charge. The saltworks administration issued the miners with work clothing and parade uniforms with accessories.
The beginning of the 20th century was a time of further changes in the mine. New expanded shaft tops were constructed (the Święta Kinga shaft, the Daniłowicz shaft), as well as steel winching towers. The shafts reached down to level 8 of the mine, i.e. almost 300 metres deep. The mine initiated leaching exploitation of the workings by leaching the deposit with water, at first with the wall spraying method, later on by borehole leaching and chamber leaching. Between 1910 and 1913, a very technologically advanced – for that time – vacuum saltworks facility was constructed in Wieliczka, which processed brine produced in the mine underground, and next in a new borehole mine in Barycz. During the 1920s, the annual output of the Wieliczka mine was at the level of 100 thousand tonnes of salt. The electrification process was started before the WWI erupted. In 1912, the first electric winching machine in Wieliczka was installed in the Regis shaft top. From the 1918, electric lighting started appearing in the workings of the mine, replacing the centuries-old practice of using candles, tallow cressets, oil and carbide lamps.
The 1918 was, however, mainly the year of another historical change in the mine. Poland regained independence, and on 1st of November, the Polish Liquidation Commission in Cracow, established at the initiative of Polish representatives to the Austrian senate, took over the Cracow Saltworks. A number of shafts, chambers and galleries were renamed. The Polish administration headed by the headmaster – later by the director – continued the electrification process. Miners began to use pneumatic drills and cutters. Artificial ventilation system was installed in the entire mine (downcast and upcast shafts equipped with suction fans) and pneumatic pumps to drain the workings. Battery-powered locomotives introduced in 1925, and later on traction line-powered ones, gradually started to replace underground horse-powered transport. Voids left underground in mined-out workings started to be backfilled with sand brought in from the surface. The impressive Św. Kinga shaft top hosted a lamp storeroom, a guildhall, and a mining rescue station. It became the primary shaft for transporting miners and materials down into the mine.
Fortunately, the tragic period of WWII did not substantially harm the Wieliczka salt mine. In 1939, the German army occupied the mine and the extraction continued. In 1944, Germans set up an underground armament factory in the mine, but it functioned for a few months only. In the January of 1945, the mine came under control of the Soviet Red Army, which soon after transferred the company to the new communist government. The mechanization and electrification processes were finalized under Polish administration. In 1961, an electric winching machine and a four-level elevator with 36-person capacity were installed in the Daniłowicz shaft. Between the 1950s and 1990s, the Wieliczka mine expanded, reaching 245 km of galleries on 9 levels, 327 metres deep, with 2391 chambers, 26 listed shafts, and 180 fore-shafts connecting the levels of the mine. In 1964, dry method of rock salt extraction ended. However, leaching the chambers allowed the mine to reach its maximum output in 1976: 260,000 tonnes of evaporated salt. However, later on the extraction fell significantly, due to deposit depletion and the resulting unprofitability of further production, as well as due to the mine switching its focus to tourism and services. The Wieliczka salt mine concluded all extraction activities in 1996. The modernized saltworks continue processing brine from natural seepages, with annual yield of approx. 12 thousand tonnes of evaporated salt with the highest purity of all domestic-produced salt (99.99% NaCl).
During the 1960s, the spa traditions saw resurgence. It is where the first in the world underground micro-climate treatments of allergies and diseases of the respiratory system were undertaken. Presently, the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine Health Resort administered by the mine, and certified as an underground sanatorium, is located on the 3rd level, in the Chambers: Wessel, Stajnia Gór Wschodnich, Smok and Boczkowski. Even when the extraction was still ongoing, the mine administration was developing underground tourism – especially following the modernization of the tourist route, and after opening the underground exhibition of the Cracow Saltworks Museum in the 1960s. The mine started to be visited by schoolchildren, labour leaders of industrial plants and delegations from ‘brotherly socialist states’. Two of the factors playing large role in increasing interest in the mine and its attractiveness to tourists were its inclusion in the registry of monuments in 1976, and later on – in 1978 – in the First UNESCO World Heritage List. When the Polish political system changed in 1989, and the country became a popular destination for foreign visitors, a real golden age of tourism began, and continues to this day. In 2005, the Wieliczka Salt Mine was visited by over 1 million tourists and in 2017 by 1.7 million. The visitors include members of royalty, heads of states, world-famous artists, athletes, actors and celebrities.
In striving to meet the visitors’ needs, the Mine and its environs constantly change: new themed routes have been set out underground, and the tourist route was made accessible also for the disabled. A number of workings has been repurposed with new functions – conferential, gastronomic, commercial. The Lill chamber now hosts state-of-the-art multimedia facilities (interactive applications, mapping, 5D cinema). Changes are also happening on the ground: the Regis shaft, with its extraordinary shaft top, was opened to tourists in 2012, following renovation. In the century-old brine baths of the St. Kinga’s park, a Grand Sal Hotel was opened, and from 2016 visitors and the spa clients can access a graduation tower – the largest in southern Poland.
Bochnia Salt Mine Sp. z o.o.
The mine is state limited liability company coming under the Polish Ministry of Energy. It is the oldest mine in Poland, with nearly 770 years of continuous operation. For centuries, it was the second pillar of the historic Cracow Saltworks undertaking. These days, the company focuses mainly on preservation and securing of the mine as a historical monument, and on commercial tourism services.
The deposit in Bochnia is one of the several rock salt deposits found along the northern line of the Carpathians. As with the Wieliczka deposit, it was formed from sedimentary evaporite minerals residing in a shallow Miocene sea. This process started approximately 13.6 million years ago and lasted 200 – 600 thousand years. The Carpathian orogenesis played a significant role in its shaping. The salt deposit has an irregular lenticular shape, extending latitudinally along the east-west axis. It is approximately 5 km long, with width between a dozen and 200 metres, and the depth of 50 to 500 metres below ground. Its upper layers are very steep, nearly vertical, beginning to slope southwards at the angle of 30-40 degrees only near its midsection, before narrowing towards its end. The deposit is composed of several thin layers, additionally strongly corrugated. The characteristic geological structure, which became fully explored only towards the middle of the 20th century, determined mode of exploitation and unique spatial development of the mine.
The earliest signs of salt making production in the area of Bochnia are dated 5500 BCE.; however, both settlement and salt making were in that area episodic phenomena until the early Middle Ages. Back then, natural brine springs and shallow brine wells were used to obtain salt by evaporation of water from brine poured into clay vessels, placed over fireplaces. During the Middle Ages, the salt was obtained in metal boiling pans, under the roofs of sheds called ‘towers’. Each tower would produce one barrel of salt per day. The development of salt making in Bochnia was probably influenced by the Cistercians, arriving there from Wąchock. One of the places of brine acquiring was the bed of the Babica stream, passing through the centre of the settlement. Following the exhaustion of the surface sources of salt water, between the 12th and 13th centuries, several brine wells were dug there. The deeper the wells, the higher concentration of salt was in the brines obtained from them. The process of deepening the well resulted in 1248 in an unexpected success – the discovery of rock salt. 3 years later, this particular well was transformed into the first shaft of the mine, ‘Gazaris’ (from Latin ‘gaza’ – a shed). Soon after, another shaft was dug – called ‘Sutoris’ (Cobbler’s) – likely after the cobblers’ guild of Wieliczka, who received part of the revenues from the shaft.
Bolesław the Chaste, the Duke of Sandomierz and the High Duke of Poland, who collected profits from the production of Bochnia saltworks, was also quick to bring the rock salt mining under his monopoly. As early as in 1253, he granted Bochnia the foundation charter. Organisation of the mine was likely entrusted to German miners, brought from Lower Silesia. Initially, only the eastern part of the Bochnia deposit was being exploited. The salt lied there close under the surface, but very narrow salt deposit in that place quickly depleted. On this account, between the 13th and 14th centuries, a number of new shafts were constructed: Krakowski, Herman, Floris, Finder, Kożuszka. They reached the depth of approximately 70 metres. At that time, the mine was employing around 120-150 miners. The mine would operate from late Autumn till late Spring; this was due to the fact that most of the miners were local peasants, who had to tend their fields in the summer time. As early as in the 13th century, the Bochnia mine was incorporated into the Cracow Saltworks, which were administered in the name of the king by a saltworks manager. Locally, production was directed by a junior manager. As with the Wieliczka mine, the local Bochnia saltworks were very profitable to the royal coffers.
1368 was an important year in the history of both the mine and the entire Bochnia. It was the year when Casimir the Great issued the ‘Statute’ codifying the principles of the mine organisation, as well as rules governing salt trading. The next shaft, ‘Regis’ (Royal), was constructed then, and the underground workings under the shafts were joined up for the first time, at the first level of the mine, named ‘Danielowiec’. Thanks to king Casimir the Great, the town flourished. The king funded the Salt Works Castle – an administrative centre of the mine and a hospital for the miners. During his reign, the town hall and fortified walls were erected. The manufacturing industry was developing, local and foreign trade – especially with Hungary and Ruthenia – was flourishing. By the 15th century, the town already had a simple water supply system and a town school, closely affiliated with the Cracow University. Many artists and writers created their art there. The 15th and 16th centuries saw significant organisational and spatial development of the mine. Underground fore-shafts were dug, reaching into the narrow deposit, and the mine extended westwards. Around 1400, the ‘Bochneris’ shaft was dug, which would soon be generating ¾ of the mine output. The region started to be called ‘New Mountains’, as distinct from older eastern part of it, so-called ‘Old Mountains’. By that time, the production in the eastern shafts (Sutoris, Gazaris and others) was nearly non-existent. Between 1556-1568, the ‘Campi’, i.e. ‘Field’ shaft, located already away from the town, was constructed even further towards west. Following the fire in the Bochneris shaft in 1581, it became the primary excavation shaft of the mine.
From the creation of the mine, up until the 19th century, salt was extracted by hand, in dry form. Exploratory drifts, so-called piece, were dug there by miners, also known as ‘piecowi’ (specialist surveyors). They faced the risk of sudden intrusion of brine or combustible and explosive methane into the workings. Salt was extracted by diggers, using two techniques: the first consisted in manual breaking the loose salt with pickaxes into small pieces, to be loaded in barrels. The second method, used for centuries also in Wieliczka, involved large rectangular salt blocks, so-called kłapcie, being separated from the vein by iron wedges, before being worked into ‘loaves’, each weighing 300 – 1000 kg. The work was conducted by diggers in faint light of tallow lamps, with the use of pickaxes, hammers, mattocks and wedges. Due to the nearly vertically descending salt layers, workings emerging in the mine were extremely steep. These were essentially narrow and very tall crevices, 2-3 metres wide, and up to a few dozen metres long. Chambers were always excavated from the bottom of the level on which they were opened, upwards. Excavation work was conducted from wooden scaffolding, mounted between the walls of the narrow chambers. Later on, as the exploitation progressed, the lower parts of the chamber would be backfilled, creating an artificial floor for the working miners. Each time 4 metres of salt was vertically excavated, a new floor was constructed from backfill, so-called rum (consisting of gangue or overburden rock). Then, the higher layers of the chamber were extracted in turn, with the floor being every now and then elevated. This technique did not leave large open spaces in the mine, once the exploitation was finished. Towards the end of the 16th century, excavation work was already taking place at the depth of 300 m. At the same time in Wieliczka, the corresponding depth was merely 100 m.
The very difficult geological conditions, the verticality and the significant depth of the salt deposit, forced the administration of the Bochnia saltworks to constantly seek new technological solutions in the area of hoisting. The first horse mill, of the so-called Polish-type, was constructed in Bochnia over the ‘Bochneris’ shaft at the beginning of the 15th century. Apart from the mills, the mine operated wooden cross-shaped manual and horse-powered winches, hoists (winding reels) and treadmills – very useful in narrow workings. All these machines were used in hoisting of salt, brine and wood for the supports construction. In the 17th century, horses began to be employed underground for hauling. At that time, approximately 500 miners were being employed by the mine. For each miner digging the salt, there were about a dozen persons transporting loaves and barrels – which was much more than in the Wieliczka mine.
In the second half of the 17th century, Bochnia was affected by the same disasters which befell the rest of Poland – wars, passages of armies, pillaging, fires and epidemics. The Salt Works Castle, town walls and many buildings were ruined. Only 54 houses in the town survived. The development of the mine stalled as well. Contributing to that were the predatory management of the saltworks administrators and the outdated salt extraction methods. Things changed for the better during the reign of the House of Wettin (1697-1763), when the mine started to be manage by Saxon specialists. Among many technological improvements introduced by the new stewards were the Saxon-style mills, with significantly larger operating range. In the Mysiur Chambers of the mine, large stables were built for horses. Beautiful and detailed maps of the workings were drafted. Actions were undertaken to secure galleries and chambers with a system of cribs, wooden framework, lids and salt pillars. Improvements in hoisting permitted the exploitation of deeper salt deposits in the ‘Old Mountains’ (the Sutoris shaft) to be restarted. On levels: Danielowiec (70 metres deep), August (212 m deep) and Podmoście (303 m deep) horizontal transportation and communication corridors were constructed, which connected the Campi and Sutoris excavation shafts. This time also marks the creation of the beautiful, lofty and narrow chambers – Christian, Zaskrzynie – and of the complex of Kalwaria workings. In 1747, the chapel of St. Kinga was carved in the side wall of the August drift and covered in polychrome decorations and reliefs. During that time, the mine had five shafts in active operation, three levels, and extent of over 1.5 km in length.
In 1772, as a result of the 1st partition of Poland, the Bochnia Salt Mine passed into Austrian ownership. Reorganization of the legal and managerial structure, implemented by the Hapsburg-nominated administration, marked the end of the unity of the Cracow Saltworks. The process of modernisation of the mine was gradual, but slow. The deposit started to be exploited with the use of explosives and improved mining tools. As a result of introducing Hungarian-style mills, work efficiency in shafts and fore-shafts was doubled. A number of decommissioned or ruined shafts was completely backfilled. The hauling galleries in the mine were equipped with wooden rails, on which wagons called ‘Hungarian dogs’, carrying barrels and salt loaves were rolling, together with ‘Hungarian carts’ for transporting loose salt. During the 60s of the 19th century, the wooden rails were replaced with iron equivalents, but transport remained horse-powered. Communication corridors, up to this point winding, narrow and uneven, were ordered. Floors of galleries used for hauling were levelled and their curves softened. The number of accidents fell down, and the mine started providing those of its miners, who could no longer work, with a pension. 1856 was the year when the industrial revolution arrived in the mine. A local carpenter, aided by a foreman, adapted the mill over the Floris shaft to work with the first steam engine in Bochnia. A complete winching steam machine was installed over the Sutoris shaft in 1874, and over the Campi shaft – in 1883. Steel structures of hoist towers made appearance in the town landscape, while in the shafts – steel elevator cages and steel winching ropes. The deposits stopped being worked then by hand, and only loose salt was being excavated – by blasting. Thanks to the ability to haul the salt from great depths in one go, most of the hoisting fore-shafts became obsolete. Additionally, the process of transporting excavated salt from the elevated and steep chambers was improved through the use of hoppers. The hoppers connected the chambers located above the levels of the mine with hauling galleries running below. They were installed in the filling in the form of separated channels, secured with timber framework, that had two sections: one for lowering the salt, the other – with wooden stairs – for the safe passage of the mining crew. The mouth of the section for transport could be closed with a heavy cover, which allowed the miner to dose the amount of salt discharged directly into carts. The Campi shaft was extended down to the depth of 400 metres and reconstructed thereafter (brick and concrete framework of the shaft). In the beginning of the 20th century, its shaft top was thoroughly reconstructed, with similar work done on the Sutoris shaft. By that time, the mine had as many as 13 operated levels, reaching 428 m deep and nearly 3 km in length. The turn of the 19th and 20th c. also brought about changes to the town itself. Electrification took place; sewers and a water supply system were constructed. The number of houses grew, as well as of elegant streets and schools. A park was built next to the salt works castle, with a gazebo for hosting saltworks orchestra recitals.
In 1918, when Poland regained independence, the Bochnia mine returned under Polish administration – but it was suffering major difficulties. The Polish government intended to close the Bochnia Salt Mine, with the aim of continuing the intensive and more profitable exploitation of the Wieliczka mine. Contributing to this decision, made in 1930, were the disastrous fire of the whole complex of buildings of the Campi shaft, as well as the strong competition from the Kuyavian mines (Wapno, Kłodawa). However, both the mine administration and the miners desperately fought to maintain the production, and to save their jobs. The decision to decommission the mine was retracted. During the WWII and after 1945, the Bochnia salt deposit continued to be extensively exploited. The mine expanded to cover 16 levels, ranging between 70 and 468 metres below surface, with total length of workings reaching approximately 60 km. The process of electrification and mechanization of the mine was advancing (electric winching machines, battery-powered locomotives underground, pneumatic, and later on electric cutters and drills). Thanks to the mechanization, horses were retired from the mine in the early 60s of the 20th century. In 1968, there was a return to the tradition of producing brine and evaporated salt. At the same time, the mine implemented a new ‘wet’ method of salt mining in its lower levels. The methods used included both water-spray leaching of salt walls, as well as chamber leaching with water stagnating in workings and in boreholes drilled in the levels of the mine. During the 80s of the 20th century, the Alpine AM-50p roadheader was used in excavating and reconstructing workings. The machine was used to shape the roofs and sides of the Ważyn chamber, which started being exploited as early as in the 18th century, thanks to its especially abundant salt deposits. The working, 280 m long, is currently serving as a tourist attraction, is used in sports events, as well as for therapeutic and recreation purposes.
In 1968, the mine began also exploiting the western part of the Bochnia deposit. A borehole mine was constructed in Łężkowice, and towards the end of the 1980s – an underground mine in Siedlec-Moszczenica. Both mines provided brine, mostly for use by the chemical plants in Cracow. However, when the Cracow plants were liquidated in the early 1990s, the same fate befell the two mines as well. Salt mining proceeded in the Bochnia Salt Mine until 1990, when due to deposit depletion and the resulting unprofitability, the mining company went into liquidation. This started the long process of decommissioning the recent workings, with simultaneous work on preserving its older, historical part. It was the result of the Regional Monument Conservator entering the Bochnia Salt Mine into the registry of monuments already in 1981. Concurrently, the mine began to provide tourism services, with first visitors walking the tourist route in 1995. The same year, an underground spa was opened in the mine. The spa mainly treats infections and chronic diseases of the upper respiratory tract, as well as allergies, by employing inhalations, recreation, daily and overnight visits. In 2000, 27 stations documenting inanimate nature were established. The presently operating shafts – Sutoris, Campi and Trynitaris – underwent modernization. Their winching towers were refitted, and an underground train for tourists, with a 60-person carrying capacity, started operation. In 1996, the longest-operating steam machine in Polish mines, in the Campi shaft, ceased working. Today, it remains a valuable technological monument. It can be turned on for the benefit of the visitors, albeit it is no longer powered by steam, but rather – by a computerized electric drive.
On 23 June 2013, the Bochnia Salt Mine was entered into the UNESCO World Heritage Site List, as an extension of the entry from 1978 for the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The mine continues to expand the range of its tourist offer. New routes have been opened, with focus on: multimedia, geology and environment, history, mining. New attractions were added: a slide and a ferry crossing. The mine started serving new functions: it hosts conferences, balls, events, concerts and sports competitions. Today, the mine is visited by 140,000 tourists annually, with the number constantly growing.