Originally, salt was acquired from brine (such a method was perfected in Małopolska) in the second half of the 13th Century, when the deposits in Bochnia and Wieliczka were discovered, there began a new chapter in the history of Polish salt. Salt deposits were the main Polish natural resource till the Partition of Poland.
The salt deposits spread from Cieszyn in Silesia along the edge of the outer perimeter of the Western and Eastern Carpathian Mountains, through Bukowina, the border ranges of Moldavia and Wallachia, to Campina in southern Romania.
Salt mined in Wieliczka and Bochnia was an important element in domestic and foreign trade. It was sold in Kraków, from where its “journey” began. Wagons loaded with the salty cargo set out on the main trade routes, which also overlapped with the public road network. In the Middle Ages, King Casimir III the Great, with an eye to invigorating trade, helped revive the salt trade with Hungary. The routes leading to Orava and Spiš through Myślenice, Jordanów, Jabłonka and Twardoszyn went through areas encompassed by the Carpathian Adventure Map. Also the road from Kraków to Wieliczka, through Dobczyce, Mszana Dolna, Klikuszowa, and Nowy Targ, was used. Salt also travelled along the main Hungarian Route, that is, the high road leading from Kraków, through Bochnia, Czchów, Nowy Sącz (or Ryto), to Piwniczna, and then to Lubowla, Lewocza, Prešov, and Košice. The exports of salt to Hungary declined in the second half of the 17th Century due to wars and stricter customs policies.
The trail in question features towns situated within the Carpathian Adventure Map, whose history is connected with the functioning of the old trade routes used to transport salt, and also with the places from which it was extracted from salt springs. Unfortunately, these towns currently lack any monuments closely connected with the history of salt. The most important places, facilities, and monuments connected with our salt story are located outside our map – in Wieliczka and Bochnia – so we only signal their existence.
Outside of the area included in the Carpathian Adventure Map, there are also the two most important places in the Małopolska history of salt, containing numerous, and the most representative, monuments connected with the history of salt.Of course these are Wieliczka and Bochnia.
In these towns, there are exceptionally favourable conditions for the working of salt deposits. Their discovery in mediaeval times kick-started the history of one of the most important economic ventures in Polish history, that is Żupy Krakowskie (the Kraków Saltworks). They were set up under the ordinance of King Casimir III the Great of 1368, which remained in force until the 17th Century. The salt mines belonged to the King, and salt was one of the royal regalia, so the revenue from its mining went to the royal treasury. Starting from the mid-13th Century, a man called a żupnik (saltworks administrator) would be appointed to manage this enterprise.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine (10 Daniłowicza St., Wieliczka) is a unique historic complex, known across the whole world. The mine was incessantly worked for centuries with more than 2 thousand chambers and 300 km of galleries spread over nine levels.
Interesting exhibitions can also be found in the Kraków Saltworks Museum – the Saltworks Castle and Mining Reserve with the oldest shaft in Wieliczka (8 Zamkowa St., Wieliczka). The Wieliczka Castle housed the office of the mine’s management board from the end of the 13th Century to 1945. The museum features one of the oldest mining exhibitions in Europe, spanning over 17 actual pits. You can also explore the exhibition with the oldest shaft from the mid-13th Century, where mining-tool relics were found.
Bochnia is an over-800-year-old city (the earliest records go back to 1198). It is here where in 1248, rock salt was discovered in Poland for the first time, and its extraction commenced in 1251. Salt has become an inseparable part of the city’s history and informs its character to this day. In Bochnia, you can see the Salt mine (2 Solna St., Bochnia; tel.(+48)146153600) which has in store for its visitors an underground tourist trail. The trail consists of several sites, each of them with a rich historical background. One of these is the Sutoris Shaft – opened in the middle of the 13th Century. This shaft is also associated with the famous legend of the ring of Saint Kinga of Poland, which supposedly helped in its miraculous discovery after being tossed by the Princess into a shaft in the Hungarian Marmaros mine. In 1847, the first steam-powered winding engine in Bochnia was installed above the shaft. Dating back to the early 20th Century, the existing shaft-top buildings were made in the late historicism style with some Art Nouveau features. In the Bochnia mine, in addition to the transport routes and chambers, you can also admire the beautiful chapel of Saint Kinga of Poland, with its wooden altar and the salt sculptures of the Saint from the second half of the 19th Century, as well as the Passionis Chapel founded in 1709 by miners and located in the 16th-Century Rozpora chamber. With a view to modernising itself, the mine put together the Underground Multimedia Exhibition so that visitors could familiarise themselves with, i.a. the development of mining technology and mining professions.