One of the strangest places that I have been to are the Wieliczka salt mines in Poland which date back to the 13th century with more than 200 kms of galleries from a depth of 64 metres to 135 metres on the tourist trail.
Mining rock salt was a dangerous job and this made miners a very religious group. Many of them were artistically inclined and created works of art in their spare time. The miners built underground chapels too- they were initially made of wood but after many fire accidents they realised that the best material was in front of them- rock salt.
We walked through miles and miles of subterranean timber structures which support the mines and are painted white to help the miners find their way in the dark.
Some displays showed the dangers that the miners had to face before adequate ventilation systems evolved: they had to creep on the ground and burn the methane known as salt petre accumulated in the ceilings with a long torch.
The miners did not create just religious stuff: their sense of play is evident from the scene out of Snow White and the seven dwarfs that we saw illuminated by coloured lights.
Legend has it that when the miners were tired and needed to nap, these loveable sprites helped in their work!
The pièce de résistance is the Chapel of St Kinga made over 67 years- an elegant ball room where everything is made of yes, salt.
On the ceiling were five chandeliers strung with hand cut crystals of salt. On the wall were a wealth of rock salt images and bas reliefs: starting from a dramatic Last Supper and the Wedding of Cana to images of St Kinga.
Some figures were made of translucent salt and lit up on the inside.
We had lunch at the deepest underground restaurant in the world with some Polish smoked cheese and potato pancakes. When we came into the sunlight again, we really felt like blind men gifted sight!