The Salt Mines of TurdaSTAFF — By Estrella Azul on May 15, 2012 at 01:15
By staff writer Estrella Azul. Photos Copyright © Estrella Azul.
I ONCE VISITED the Salt Mines of Turda when I was in fourth grade or so. I can still recall mostly everything from then. Once my mom got some time off work last summer, I decided to go for a little road trip with her. While she has never visited this salt mine, I was curious to see how it got renovated!
If you approach the mine from where the old main entrance was on Salt Street (appropriate, right?) you purchase your ticket and step from 30+ Celsius into the under 10 Celsius the mine stores. It’s interesting how the cold lurches right behind the entrance door; it’s fascinating to me what keeps it there and what keeps the heat out so straightforwardly.
Unlike in other mines in Romania, there is no mechanical means of transport from the entrance to get into the mine. At Praid, one travels down in a “J” shaped road, at Slănic Moldova, one spirals down for about 9 or 10 levels with a bus, and at Slănic Prahova there are elevators which take visitors down, into the mine.
Well, at Turda, you get to simply walk in on your own feet until you reach the main gallery room. Strolling down the Franz Joseph gallery might be a little daunting as you walk through and can’t see the end of the 400-500 meters long and 1.5 meters wide tunnel.
Somewhere about 100 meters in, the ground passes from a deposit of salt on brick to the black and shiny salt walls.
This section of the tunnel suddenly becomes rectangular; at the end of it you turn left. The corridor gallery leading to the current main entry was closed off for the longest time; I recall wooden beams closing off the path and signs warning visitors not to proceed.
On the right there are a few small rooms where some equipment, old mining utensils and machinery used to transport salt are displayed. The entrance to the Joseph Hall (Echoes Hall) is also to the right there. What you can see in there is a balcony towards a pitch black abyss. However, even if you can’t really see anything, you can hear everything; it’s not called Echoes Hall for nothing! Visitors are practically invited to shout their little hearts out, whistle or whatever sounds they can make – then stand back and listen to the echoes which sound surreal. Honestly, coupled with the darkness, they can seem a bit sinister especially if you’re left alone in the room and realize you’re only separated by a simple wooden balcony from the darkness.
A little further down, still on the right is the entrance to the Rudolph Mine, a 40 meters deep trapezoidal room. You enter the mine near the ceiling level, since that is where the mining started out. There is now a panoramic-view elevator one can take, although the lines are always long. Then there’s the “manual” option of going down using the two stair cases at either end of the room. This is what my classmates and I used when we first visited. Now I know why the teachers insisted we go down back then; we were so tired by the time we came back up those steep stairs, they didn’t have to discipline us for a good two hours.
Since she was discouraged by the long line, I managed to convince my mom to walk with me to the opposite side of the hall and walk down the stairs. (I really wanted to take the stairs anyway.) We strolled over on the wooden walkway which runs along the walls, so close to the ceiling. It’s interesting (though not wise to think of it while you’re still on it) how the walkway is simply held in place by wooden beams stuck into the salt walls.
If you look down, you can notice how everything here is lit and the hall is “furnished”. The interior design consists of a football/basketball court, ping-pong tables (table tennis), mini-golf track, billiard tables, two tracks for mini bowling, children’s play area, a Ferris Wheel, and a small amphitheatre for conferences or concerts. I can just imagine what a concert must sound like in here! You’ll also find here many benches for relaxation.
We proceeded down on the wood staircase placed in a niche carved into the salt wall. I found some love (hearts) carved into the railings. Most of the railings host one or two little hearts.
Near the panoramic elevator, united with the Rudolph Mine is the Theresa Mine. Connected with a balcony, the bell-shaped Theresa Mine is completely different from the rest of the mines here. I recall seeing this mine from up above when I visited with my class and marveling at how deep it was; it was hard to spot the lake at its bottom.
The Theresa Mine is a bell mine of a depth of 90 meters and a base diameter of 70 meters wide. On its bottom there is a lake with a small island formed, which allowed for a lovely design to be created. Of course, we went down to the island. There is a (busy) elevator which takes you down, or you can walk down the steep staircase, which borders on claustrophobic here. In some of its sections only one person can pass at a time.
Upon entering the mine there is a sign notifying people to put on helmets. Apparently things might fall from the ceiling sometimes and there is a slight issue with salty drips on account of visitors being at human temperature. My slightly germophobic self decided to risk those fifteen minutes and go on without a helmet. There is a bridge connecting to the island above the underground lake. Recreational boat rental is available for boating enthusiasts, the futuristic arrangement is really nice, some lights light up the water and a wooden kiosk is designed to serve a sitting area.
We chose the stairs to go back up into the Rudolph Mine and from there waited in line to go up with the elevator; as much as I wanted to walk back those 40 meters taking the stairs, both my mom and I were too tired.
After you’re done with visiting the mines, you can choose which way to exit, walking through the Franz Joseph gallery again – by the old entrance or the new Entry-Pavillion, opened after the renovations. This entrance/exit is called Durgău, named after the Durgău Salt Valley area where it surfaces. Near this entrance, there is the Gisela Mine, a room which was adapted and transformed specifically for patients undergoing health treatments.
Unlike the other way out, here you have to climb some stairs to “reach the light”, again walking through the layers of salt, and then earth. You pass sinister-looking narrow corridors.
The 30+ Celsius temperature which you have completely forgotten about by now hits you near the last steps up. However, it’s nice to walk out and look around at the hills and the banks of the Ocnei Salt Lake. If you want to, you can wait for a bus to take you into town from here. If you fancy a walk however, I suggest exiting at the other end of the tunnel from where you can easily walk into town and enjoy the nice weather.
I strongly recommend visiting this salt mine if you’re near Turda (such as in Cluj-Napoca, for example).
For me, it was such an interesting experience to revisit the mine and compare it to the way it used to be when I first saw it. Back then, I compared it with being showed into a hole in the wall, walking a lot with a bunch of noisy classmates and looking at some dark rooms. None of that is applicable anymore; the salt mine definitely looks amazing now.
My mom and I had a wonderful time, and I’m positive you would, too!
Estrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. She is a Hungarian girl living and writing from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the capital of historical region Transylvania. Estrella is our European correspondent, and she dreams of embarking on a round-the-world trip. To read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©.