Travelling Light

Salina Turda (Turda Salt Mine), Turda, Transylvania, Romania, September 10th, 2014

Wednesday was the big day – time to visit the famous Salina Turda, the Turda Salt Mine.

We caught a minibus from Cluj, and the driver told us which stop to get off at, and which road to follow to reach the salt mine. After a 500m walk through the suburbs of Turda, we reached the hobbit hole that is the original entrance to the salt mine. The flowers were a nice touch!

A word of warning – if you are planning to visit the salt mine, note that you are not allowed to eat inside the mine. Bring food to eat on the doorstep, so you can stay as long as possible before leaving in search of your next meal.

As soon as you step through the door, you are in another world. From a pleasant 24 degree (Celsius, Americans, Celsius) summer day, it was instantly 12 degrees (55 American degrees) and completely dark, except for the regularly-spaced overhead lights.

We heard that when the mine was working, the darkness was so total that the horses which turned the shaft that pulled up the buckets of salt (who were stabled and fed underground) would go blind when they were taken outside the mine. That was apparently one of the main reasons that they stopped working the mine – animal welfare laws were enacted.

And the price of salt fell relative to other commodities, of course – otherwise a mechanical engine would have been installed.

The entry corridor is hundreds of metres of level, uniform tunnel through solid salt. The salt is not 100% pure, so the walls are mostly a muddy colour, with the occasional seam of pure white salt.

The walls are damp, and the seams of pure salt tend to dissolve in the moisture, crystallising again when the moisture evaporates. This creates deposits of salt along the bottoms of the walls, which look like snow, and also salt stalactities and other features we are more used to seeing in limestone caves.

The first observation point looks into the top part of the first chamber – we guess it was an area were the salt was, on average, purer. Alternatively, you can only dig out a certain volume before it becomes unstable.

The layers of purer salt make very pretty patterns on the walls! The dried ancient seas must have been compressed at some time in the intervening millions of years, because the layers are very wiggly now.

And then it was time to head down the salt-encrusted stairs to Wonderland!

The second and third mine chambers have a small window of intersection. Each mine chamber is something like twenty-five floors of a high-rise building at its highest, and roughly cone-shaped (presumably to reduce the risk of pieces falling from the ceiling). In fact, the profile is probably the the same curve as the arched ceilings in a Gothic cathedral, for the same mathematical reasons.

From the observation balcony (at the level of the entry corridor) to the floor of the second chamber is thirteen storeys. The ceiling goes up much higher, because the mine tunnel goes into the side of a hill, so there is more and more salt above the main tunnel the farther along it you travel.

On the floor level of the second chamber is a children’s playground. And ten-pin bowling lanes, table tennis tables, pool tables, an amphitheatre, and a ferris wheel! There is also something that looks like a cafe, but don’t get your hopes up, because the mugs they sell there are empty.

There is WiFi in the second chamber, too!

From the top of the elevator, you can also see down through the insersection into the third chamber, a further thirteen floors below the floor level of the second chamber. Those tiny circles of light are the buildings on the island in the middle of the lake at the bottom of the third chamber.

Yes, LAKE. In a salt mine. A lake with BOATS.

The entry to the third chamber (after you walk down thirteen storeys of stairs, or take the lift if you are feeling lazy) is a bridge across the lake to the island in the centre.

Everything is beautifully lit, and you can hire boats and row around the lake (if the idea of rowing, on water, at a temperature of 12 degrees CELSIUS is in any way appealing to you), or just sit and watch those who are foolish enough to try it. If sitting still is enjoyable for you when it is 12 degrees C. We kept moving!

Salty water drips from the ceiling constantly, so the wooden structures are covered with a thick layer of salt crust, except in the areas where many feet keep wearing away the salt as fast as it arrives.

Even the wand-like lights were coated with salt!

This is the view upward from the island, through the intersection to the 13-storey lift shaft in the second chamber. You can’t see the entire lift from this angle, but in the darkness behind it is the balcony from which the downwards picture was taken.

The fourth chamber is devoted to medical use. Apparently the salt air is very good for asthmatics, so people with asthma come and spend hours sitting around in the humid and salty air.

We can think of simpler (and warmer!) ways to get humid and salty air, but if you have a salt mine sitting around unused, it is probably cheaper to fit it out as a medical facility than to make a purpose-built salt air facility.

We weren’t quite sure whether the spider shape was for medical necessity or architectural whimsy, but it was impressive.

Eventually, we arrived at the new entrance, which is much bigger and spiffier than the original entrance by which we entered. We would highly recommend traversing the mine in the direction we did it – from old to new entrance – because it gives a much better impression of what it would have been like to work in the mine when it was working.

The new entrance building is totally geared to tourism, with a cafe inside and tourist-fleecing stalls outside.

If you are driving, park at the old entrance and don’t even bother going out to look at the new entrance – go out as far as the exhibits of architectural drawings, if you like such things, then turn around and go back into the mine.

From the new entrance, we caught a bus into the centre of Turda. The square is really beautiful, with fountains and paving, and beautifully maintained old buildings all around it.

More about the town of Turda in the next note. If you can’t contain your curiosity, there is a Turda photo album here:

And, of course, we took many, many photos in the salt mine, and this note contains a mere handful. To peruse the full volume of images, check out the Salina Turda photo album here: