The Salt Mines of Salina Turda
Have you ever taken one of those glass-sided “sky elevators”? Up the side of the Victor Emmanuel Monument in Rome, in the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, and China has a doozy or two. All of these were fun, seeing the ground steadily drop away to enlarge the vista, but Romania had a different experience on offer, and it was a new one to me.
This time, instead of heading up, my capsule carried me thirteen stories straight down. The flip in perspective made me feel like an explorer, delving into undiscovered territory, nevermind that people have been mining history’s most precious material here for centuries. A document from 1271 mentions these mines that filled Hungarian coffers, though ancient Romans and the Dacians before them were likely doing the same. Such is the incredible historical importance, not of gold, but of salt.
That’s a lot of time, and a lot of salt, so my view looked out over a cavern so large it had a Ferris wheel at the far end (just past the mini golf and ping pong tables). But it was not a kitschy carnival atmosphere in this space, which resonated softly with faint “binaural” tones, the ethereal music that many believe harmonizes with your brain waves to reduce stress and anxiety. Add to that the purported health benefits of the saline air for respiratory problems, and this place was downright therapeutic. (The youngest mine, up by the surface and not as large, has been converted into a chic day spa offering balneary benefits, with massage chairs and excellent wifi.)
So I was already happy with my underworld exploration, even before I noticed the second elevator. Not glass this time, but it took me another thirteen stories straight down, to the deeper Terezia mine. Begun in 1690, men had been hand-carving blocks of salt down here for more than fifty years by the time its memorable namesake, Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa ascended her throne.
In case that thought wasn’t striking enough, this deepest mine caught any water from above, and is now filled with a lake up to 26 feet deep. I crossed a Scandinavianish bridge to an island of salt, and watched families renting boats to drift in the otherworldly stillness.
They stopped actively mining here in 1932, but opened to visitors sixty years later after the fall of Communism. A six million euro renovation spruced things up 2008-2010, so you can move in comfort past the original horse-powered “crivac” winch that raised a full leather bag of salt on one side, while lowering an empty one on the other, and see the salt-encrusted altar where miners prayed before and after their shifts. They had smokey and unreliable torches. We have LED spaceship lights. It’s a great time to be alive.
I emerged back into the open air under a brilliant blue sky, and felt like I now shared a secret with the surrounding gentle hills. Romania has a habit of making you feel like you’ve just discovered something remarkable, and the salt mine of Salina Turda remains one of my favorite examples.