On 22-25 March 2012 a group of 23 Year 11 pupils, accompanied by Rachel McQuillin, Jim Grant, Lizzie Seetharaman and Alastair Dunn, visited the city of Krakow and the region of Galicia in southern Poland. We quickly learned that this was an area of layered identities and history. Although infamous for the suffering that occurred there under Nazi rule, Krakow had thrived for centuries as both the economic and cultural heartland of medieval Poland, and later as an elegant northern outpost of the Austrian Empire. Emerging from the horrors of the Second World War and then the drab winter of Communism, Krakow is now a thriving a tourist and university centre at the very crossroads of Europe.
Although arriving by air, our trip began underground in the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine. Our descent was by 54 flights of seven steps, taking us to 300 metres below the surface. Whatever assumptions we may have had about mines were soon overturned during our extraordinary tour. Far from being cold, damp or cramped, the Wieliczka mines are bright, dry and anything but claustrophobic. Known to the local inhabitants as 'White Gold', the salt of Wieliczka powered centuries of economic expansion, enriching Poland and its kings, contributing up to a quarter of their entire income. The ceaseless demand for salt as a commodity and a preservative helped to establish Galicia and the city of Krakow as powerful commercial centres. The mines have welcomed tourists for over 200 years, and are as much a place of beauty as of industry. We marvelled at the remarkable carvings made by the miners, including a vast underground church hollowed out from the rock itself, and beguiling statues of saints, popes, mythical creatures and famous visitors to the mines.
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Wednesday 18 April 2012
by Charlotte Hails