a museum deep underground in a salt mine
November 30, 2013 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Salina Turda: salt mines turned subterranean history museum. "What was once an enormous salt mine in Turda, Romania, has now been carefully renovated by the regional Cluj county council into the world’s first salt mining history museum. The Salina Turda salt mines were excavated in the 17th century, proving a crucial source for salt that brought the Romans much wealth. Today, the Durgau lakes at the mine’s surface – responsible for much of the salt deposits in the area – are popular tourist attractions that guarantee a steady flow of visitors all year around. A trip down the vertical shafts that once transported thousands of tons of salt will slowly reveal the immense scale of the excavated earth, made blatantly clear upon reaching the very bottom of the mine which is covered in a sand-like layer of salt."
posted by moonmilk (26 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
They have a ferris wheel down there! And a soccer field! And a salt lake with boats!
posted by moonmilk at 6:35 PM on November 30, 2013

Makes me want to go there at once!
posted by Pudhoho at 6:44 PM on November 30, 2013

I've never immediately wanted to go anywhere as immediately as I want to go there right now.
posted by xingcat at 6:51 PM on November 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

BLDG BLOG will be all over that sh*t.

And yes, I want to visit.
posted by misterbee at 7:11 PM on November 30, 2013

If you ever wanted to shoot a CGI-free movie in this day and age Salina Turda would be the place to do it.
posted by islander at 7:12 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating, and I want to go there, because I have questions-- I want to learn how/why that was dug that way! why dig it so -deep-, instead of wider? It seems like the depth would have been a real problem to deal with logistically.
posted by The otter lady at 7:12 PM on November 30, 2013

There are certainly older salt mining museums in the world. I think what they meant to say is that they turned it into the *best* one.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:15 PM on November 30, 2013

I've visited the famous salt mine near Krakow that's been a museum / tourist attraction / forced children's tour for many years now. It's amazing, in its way, but it's also terribly boring and underground and the required guided tour is really long and its dark and did I mention the guides are required and you can't go at your own place? (Bonus: visitor in my elevator getting a claustrophobia panic attack in the tiny elevator). After that visit, my partner and I promised each other never to take an underground guided tour again and between us now "visiting the salt mines" is a private joke about obligatory tourist attractions.

So maybe it's just the photography, but the lighting and the open design of this Romanian salt mine seems really great to me. Looks like it could actually be fun!

It's hard to understand just how vital salt mining and the salt trade was in Europe. Not only is salt tasty but it's vital for preserving food. I was impressed visiting Lübeck how much the impact of the Old Salt Route was still visible. Lübeck is a wealthy town now in part because 800+ years ago it was the sea port for salt produced in Lüneberg, some 100km inland to the south.
posted by Nelson at 7:30 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by parki at 7:47 PM on November 30, 2013

Funny, Nelson, I visited Wieliczka and had pretty much the opposite experience. Wasn't bored for a second, although I agree that it would be nice to go at your own pace sometimes. I could have hung out in some of those chambers for an hour.

Otter Lady: the depth probably was logistically problematic, but that's what they would have had to do to follow the salt. Wide, thin salt beds laid down by the evaporation of seas get lots of rock layered on top of them in later millenia. Because of its crystalline structure, salt doesn't compress and so is much less dense than the rock above it. Over millions of years it collects and forms a big bubble that rises up, like a lava lamp. You have this big column of salt that's slowly rising through the rock above it. I expect that's why they have the big cylindrical room here - it's round because of salt's affinity for itself, and it's vertical because it was in the process of rising up from below.

Geology is kinda creepy over a long enough time scale.
posted by echo target at 7:52 PM on November 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

That looks so awesome! Thanks for posting it, moonmilk. Would LOVE to visit it. Wonder if they'd allow us to have a Mefite meetup there?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:00 PM on November 30, 2013

Also, never heard of Romanians referred to as "Romans" but I guess it fits.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:01 PM on November 30, 2013

Amazing. If they install some hanging spheres, and chambers marked 'vitrified', I will book my flight.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:49 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, never heard of Romanians referred to as "Romans" but I guess it fits - The Unirea Salt Mines, also in Romania, have an entire little hall dedicated to Decebal, who fought pretty damn hard against being referred to as a Roman. Then again, they also have a giant hammer and sickle carved into the epic Mountains-of-Madness walls, so probably someone was just going through a nationalistic period when that one went up. There are also go carts. Maybe Romanians just love salt mine go carts?

My main memory of visiting Unirea is the little roped-off corner that is used as a sanitoriums for, I believe, lung cancer patients. I mean, it's not a hospital or a hotel or anything so well staffed or fancy, just a bunch of pallet cots in a corner of a vast open space where all sounds is both echoed and muffled all at the same time. Not so bad during the day when there are people coming and going, but at night? When the elevators are shut down? And the lights off the main cave are turned out? And all you have to do is lie on your little cot and breathe and think about your own mortality and maybe that strange shuffling noise that could be yards away, or maybe just a few feet....

All that goes to say, I might not be prevailed upon to visit another salt mine any time soon. This one looks much nicer though.
posted by theweasel at 8:50 PM on November 30, 2013

They've really done a wonderful job on the museum. Forwarding to a Romanian friend.
posted by arcticseal at 9:52 PM on November 30, 2013

Are they any salt mines in the US or Canada that allow visitors and/or give tours? I've been fascinated by the idea of visiting one ever since I saw Mike Rowe drop by one on Dirty Jobs.

Seems like all the awesome ones are in Europe, but I know there are active mines in Oklahoma, North Texas and (maybe) Kansas, can anyone confirm whether they allow visitors?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 10:47 PM on November 30, 2013

There's the Stracata Kansas Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson, KS. I keep hearing good things about it, but I haven't managed to talk myself into driving out there yet.
posted by angelchrys at 10:57 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

is used as a sanitoriums for, I believe, lung cancer patients
is used?! In the US we used Mammoth Cave as a tuberculosis hospital, but that was, like, 150 years ago. yikes.
posted by whatzit at 12:45 AM on December 1, 2013

Also, never heard of Romanians referred to as "Romans" but I guess it fits.

I suspect the reference is to actual Romans - there is archaeological evidence of salt mining in Turda from the pre-Roman period (1st century BC), whilst the Romans extended the exploitation and built the castrum Potaissa (also near Turda) in part to defend the mines (here a link to the Romanian Wikipedia page on Potaissa - the English page is a stub). During the Roman period, salt mining tended to be surface mining, which has left quite a few salt lakes dotted around the Transylvanian landscape (some of them are near where I live, at Ocna Sibiului - nothing like as spectacular as Turda, but you get a mini-Dead Sea- like experience, just floating in the water).

In fact, there was a lot of Roman mining in the area (and the wider area as well, as far as I remember). The one that is locally and nationally most in the news these days is not the Turda mine, but the gold mine at Rosia Montana, which is alleged to have one of the most extensive Roman galleries in the world.
posted by miorita at 1:53 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira in Colombia blew my mind. Worth a trip to Colombia all on its own, although there is so much else to love about that country.
posted by spitbull at 6:07 AM on December 1, 2013

Here's some 360-degree panorams of the place.
posted by Goofyy at 8:54 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

After reading about salt mines, the first thing I think of is the pain incurred for thousands of years by the slaves forced to mine salt.

"of the Saharan salt mines it is said that no slave lived there for more than five years."

Romania was no different.

From early on in the history of slavery in Romania, many other slaves were made to work in the salt mines.

Salt has been divorced from slave labor only fairly recently historically.

In a mine as old and as deep as this, and countless others, the salt was paid for in blood. The Romans, Arabs, Chinese all employed slave labor, and slaves weren't just used in the old world, but the new, as well. The Zanj Rebellion, among others, was primarily about slavery and salt. Scroll down for a bit about the history of salt.

Put a cup of salt in a quart of water and soak your hands for an hour. No imagine being in that for days on end, for brine salt mining, or breathing salt dust and having it on your skin day after day for dry mining. Imagine being deep in a salt mine with the only light being from smoking torches. Pretty horrible.

Tuz it the Turkish word for salt. There are many references to Tuzla--place of salt--in Turkey, as well as Lake Tuz, the Tuz Gölü, still mined for salt still, after thousands of years. We drove around Lake Tuz--it's huge--while the wind was blowing. Not the best day of our Great Turkey Tour.

More on the salt trade from The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Volume 1; Volume 7
posted by BlueHorse at 12:56 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are they any salt mines in the US or Canada that allow visitors and/or give tours? I've been fascinated by the idea of visiting one ever since I saw Mike Rowe drop by one on Dirty Jobs.

Well, there used to be one in Louisiana: (the Lake Peigneur event)

posted by mule98J at 5:19 PM on December 1, 2013

mule98J: "Well, there used to be one in Louisiana: (the Lake Peigneur event)


Holy hell, that is some scary stuff! I can't believe I don't remember that.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:41 PM on December 1, 2013

The Kansas Underground Salt Museum is pretty awesome, and I'd definitely recommend a trip there to anyone who's in Kansas for any reason (a detour there breaks up the dreadful I-70 drive and is practically worth it for that alone). It is still an active mine, but the tour doesn't take you to the parts of the mine that are still in operation. To see that, watch that episode of Dirty Jobs in the lobby while you're waiting for your scheduled elevator ride. You do get to see some impressively desiccated leavings from earlier miners, and some items (movie memorabilia) from the on-site archive. (Old salt mines work well as archive sites due to the constant temperature and low humidity year-round, plus geological stability and isolation from weather.) And there's a pretty sweet guided tram ride.

It does not have a Ferris wheel, though. Or a lake with boats. I really, really, really want to visit Romania now.
posted by asperity at 9:24 AM on December 2, 2013

Are they any salt mines in the US or Canada that allow visitors and/or give tours?

I've heard there's one in Michigan which was converted into a research facility, so you might be able to get in as a test subject. However, it may be overrun by mantis men.
posted by homunculus at 2:56 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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