If you didn’t know where to find the entrance to the Salina Turda salt mine, you’d likely drive right past it. Capped above ground by a modern glass and steel dome next to a huge parking area, surrounded by small hills dotted with marshy salt ponds, not much about the place indicates that this building might be anything more than an ordinary building. You certainly wouldn’t know from a glance that it sits directly above a salt mine so old it was excavated by the Romans. Deep beneath the ground, inter-connected caverns and tunnels, elevated walkways and creaky wooden stairs sprawl in every direction. No longer an operational mine, the Salina Turda is now open to tourists, offering visitors the chance to descend 367 feet down into the depths of one of the largest salt mines in the world.
For us, this was our first trip inside a salt mine, so we were pretty excited! Just inside the entrance, we ran across a nice visual aid of the entire salt mine complex. Though it’s called Turda Salt Mine (or Salina Turda), the name “Turda” comes from the region in Romania where the site is located. Underground, a handful of individual conical chambers carry their own names: the Iosif, Rudolf, Terezia, Anton, and Gizela Mines.
Our route was obvious with only one main tunnel, the Franz Joseph Gallery, connecting all of these chambers. Stretching for almost an entire kilometer, the Franz Joseph Gallery was excavated to allow workers to transport the salt underground from each mine chamber to one main exit point. The salt was then immediately transported to warehouses nearby. Excavation of the tunnel began in 1853 and continued for over four decades, when it was finally completed towards the end of the 19th century.
Everywhere we looked, every surface was coated with salt. It was caked on the walls in vertical clumps, suspended from the ceilings as fine, pencil-thin stalactites, and swirled over surfaces like ice sheets in the Arctic.
Before entering any of the individual mine chambers, we first passed through the “roll-call room”, a room formed unintentionally as a space between the caverns during excavation.
Since this was the entry and exit point for entering the chambers from the Franz Joseph Gallery, it became the natural place for mine bosses to call roll for workers on their way to the chambers below and to mark them off when they safely returned after shift.
Long ago, a shrine was erected in the roll-call room for workers to stop for a prayer before descending into the mines.
The natural environment underground in the caverns is ideal for growing salt crystals. The humidity averages 70-80%, and the temperature is a fairly constant 12.4°C (about 54°F).
From the roll-call room, we climbed a few stairs where we could look across at the narrowest, upper portion of the bell-shaped Terezia Mine. Coated in salt, sheets of protective netting hung from the ceilings and around the walkways as protection from falling rocks or objects inadvertently dropped from above.
Peering over the railing into the depths of the Terezia Mine, the deepest of all the chambers at 112 meters (367 feet), it was difficult to tell at first what it was we were even seeing. As our eyes adjusted to the dim light, we finally realized that little yellow boats were tied around a cluster of otherworldly spheres of light. Several hundred feet below lay an underground salt lake.
Passing up the elevator, we opted to take the salt-encrusted wooden stairs to the next chamber.
Descending countless flights of incredibly narrow, nearly vertical steps, we arrived at the Rudolph Mine, my personal favorite. Long and cylindrical, this was the last mine to be excavated and was mined in 1868.
Salt stalactites in the Rudolph Mine grow about 2 cm a year, sometimes reaching lengths of 3 meters before they break off and fall.
Our vantage on the suspended wooden walkways of Rudolph Mine opened onto a truly surreal world. Directly across was the elevator to the Franz Joseph Gallery. Immediately next to that was the flight of stairs we would take up to leave. The gaping hole in the center marked the entrance to Terezia Mine from our chamber, though we’d have to descend to enter. Just below on our left was a giant Ferris wheel. Illuminating it all, pendant lights floated from the ceiling like old-fashioned lanterns. It was breathtaking!
Descending the 172 stairs to the bottom of Rudolph Mine, the pendant lights that looked so small from above grew larger until I realized they were as tall as us.
At the bottom, it felt almost like being in a jar. Long since sealed, the two dark openings above marked the top of the bell-shaped Terezia Mine, where we had first looked out over the railing.
Looking down on the Terezia’s 8-meter deep salt lake, the scene was reminiscent of something out of Waterworld.
One final set of stairs led us through a fissure in the salt walls separating the Rudolph and Terezia Mines. Once used as the dumping grounds for salt “waste”, a small island in the center of the lake grew over time. Now it’s connected to the mine entrance with an arched wooden stairway.
Families with small children bobbed around the tiny lake on yellow and blue rental boats.
Why or how they came up with the plans for the bizarre alien-like structures in the center of the lake, I have no idea, but I have to admit they were pretty cool.
On our way back up, we paused to look back at Terezia Mine from the stairs.
I couldn’t help but wonder what workers 1,000 years ago would think if they could see Turda Salt Mine now. Or the miners who descended into the darkest depths of Terezia in the 19th century, lowered by ropes into the darkness after a fervent prayer for their safe return. Closed in 1932 after a long decline, the mine was briefly used as a bomb shelter during World War II. Later, the long, cool, damp Franz Josef Gallery was used to store telemea, a special Romanian cheese made of sheep’s milk. What would those folks think about Salina Turda now, with its Ferris wheel and paddle boats, its elevator and electric lighting and museum paying homage to a way of life that’s moved on into history? I have a feeling they’d think it’s a pretty spectacular place to visit!
- You can download a free audio-guide from the AppStore/GooglePlay/Windows Phone Store. It’s available in English, Romanian, and Hungarian. WiFi is free but limited in the mine, so download before you go.
- Parking is available on site for about €1 for the entire day.
- Traveling with a pet? They’re not allowed in the cave, but you can actually rent a cage for your dog or cat for about €3.25 for the day. You can even bring your cat! Bonus points to them for going above and beyond to accommodate visitors traveling with pets.
- If you have children under age 2, employees recommend a maximum of 1 hour spent inside the high-saline environment.
- Want to go boating on the underground salt lake, bowling, play table tennis, ride the Ferris wheel, or get married in the mine? Prices are here.
- Official site for Salina Turda
- Love caves? You might also like visiting St. Beatus Caves in Switzerland.