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Sunday 20 March 2011

Underground Art

The huge salt mine at Wieliczka in Southern Poland has attracted tourists since the fifteenth century -- the astronomer Copernicus was among its first visitors. In 1978 the mine was included in the original batch of thirteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites (only two of the other sites were in Europe). Besides its size (over 300 kilometres of tunnels) its main attraction consists of numerous images, statues, and even whole churches carved out of salt.

The mine even has its own demon (the Skarbnik) and its own saint (Saint Kinga of Poland). The Skarbnik (pictured on the left) is said to haunt the tunnels of the mine, and to guard its treasures (the name means "treasurer" in Polish). Saint Kinga (1224–92) was a Hungarian Princess who, according to legend, first discovered the salt deposits at Wieliczka. The largest of the underground churches (more than 50 metres in length) is dedicated to her. As can be seen in the picture below, Saint Kinga's church boasts a wall-carving which is a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper... the original of which didn't make the World Heritage list until two years later in 1980! [Thanks to Ewa Babarowski for providing background information for this post.]

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