If someone asked me today to choose between a bar of gold and a bar of salt, I would definitely choose the gold. But if this happened hundreds of years ago, maybe I would go for the salt bar. You might not believe this, but in the days of old, salt — so easy to take for granted nowadays — used to be more precious than gold. The salt mine in Turda, or Salina Turda, stands as proof.
It is said that extractions here started in antiquity and that the mine continuously produced salt tablets until Middle Ages. The vast chambers inside the mine, which can be explored today, date back to the 17th century, the same period when Salina Turda was officially established. An even more impressive fact about this 112-meter-deep mine is that it was formed by hand, not explosives.
In 1932, excavations stopped and the mine was abandoned (in fact, it was used as a bomb shelter during WWII) until 1992, when it was reopened for tourists. Recently, with a 6 million euro investment, the salt mine was converted into an incredible underground theme park and quickly became famous all over the world. Google it!
In a recent trip through Romania, we stopped by the mine for a visit. After two hours spent in the salt mine, we came up with four things you should do when visiting Salina Turda, based on our experience:
Prepare properly for the tour. Going to Turda’s salt mine requires some preparation beforehand: a pair of sturdy shoes / boots, a blouse (it may be pretty chilly inside), and a bottle of water. A backpack may come in handy if you want to carry water and a sandwich, but don’t take too many things with you as it may become uncomfortable for you or for the others when passing through narrower places. Bonus: make sure that your camera or smartphone has a strap: you don’t want your devices to slip through planks or roll down the stairs.
Avoid weekends. If you want to make the best of your tour, don’t go there during weekends, because it’s really crowded. We arrived on a Saturday around 1 PM — the rush hour, I suppose. Trust me, it was madness. I think the salt mine’s staff could make a greater effort to control the traffic. Salina Turda is open daily between 9 AM and 6 PM. The entrance fee is about 5 euros/person.
Use the stairs. There are two options to head down into the underground wonderland from Salina Turda: wooden stairs and modern elevators. After seeing the large groups of people waiting for the elevator, we decided to take the 10+ flights of narrow wooden stairways. Not only was it an incredible experience, but we were also able to stop anytime we wanted to take pictures and admire the mine from above. We also took the stairs going back up and it was awesome.
Don’t miss out the Crivac Room. Salina Turda is not only about the underground state-of-the-art theme park, but also about the salt mine’s history. Therefore, the Crivac Room (or Trolley Room) is a must see. The octagonal room hosts a trolley called “crivac” or “gepel”, which was the rudimentary installation used for lifting salt rocks on the surface. The machine was built in 1881 and replaced a previous one installed in 1864. It is the only installation of this kind in all of the salt mines in Romania and probably in Europe that has kept in its original location.
This room has a sad story too. The machine used to be driven by animal traction; one or two horses were hitched to each arm, working in shifts. In times when electricity hadn’t yet been introduced in the mine, due to the poor illumination and the circular motion, the horses used to go blind after 2 weeks. Moreover, after 6 months spent in the mine, the animals were unable to perform at maximum efficiency, so they had to be removed.
To sum up, speaking in terms of services, experience, and awesomeness, from my point of view, Turda salt mine is one of the most spectacular tourist attractions I’ve seen in Eastern Europe so far. If you go there during weekdays, and not in a weekend as we did, I would love to know your impressions.
Photo credit: Cristian Sitov
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