Item of the week

Salt block

The basic method for moulding the salt bed in the Wieliczka mine was to tear it out with the use of iron wedges; the cuboid blocks were then treated and transformed into barrel shapes or a cylinder for trading purposes. Those blocks were the main product of salt mines in the region of Krakow for six centuries — from the second half of the 13th century to 1876. The elongated, oval shape made the transportation of salt cylinders easier, which were sometimes very heavy to move through the maze of underground excavations. Salt blocks were rolled by special teams of miners, making use of hard rods.

The production of salt blocks was first mentioned in the Wawel Cathedral Diplomatic Register in 1278. The note referred to the salt mine in Bochnia. Salt blocks in the Wieliczka mine were recorded for the first time in the incorporation charter of the town of Wieliczka issued in 1290. According to the regulation of King Casimir III the Great of 1368, blocks of salt weighed ca. 300-400 kg. In the 14th century, the Wieliczka salt works produced three types of salt blocks: the so-called Krakow style, Oświęcim style, and Slovak style, whereas in the 17th century there were 9 types of salt blocks weighing from ca. 1,000 kg to even 2,000 kg.

These are short descriptions of some of the salt blocks:

  • Krakow-style salt block — the main product purchased by Polish merchants at a lower price, designed for the Polish market;
  • Oświęcim-style salt block — of greater value, designed for the salt storehouse in Oświęcim (at the Silesia and Malopolska border), from where it was distributed to Silesia and Moravia as the major exportation direction;
  • Slovak-style salt block — small salt block weighing ca. 600 kg; the size was adjusted for long transportation of these blocks in mountainous areas and the frequent change of means of transport;
  • Noble-style salt block — weighed ca. 1250 kg and was designed for noblemen; this type of salt block resulted from the Nieszawa Statutes of 1454 when King Casimir Jagiellon ordered a special privilege for noblemen, which said that noblemen could purchase salt directly from salt mines on days of fasting (three times a year);
  • Donative salt block — given freely to holders of certain privileges (e.g., churches, monasteries).

This salt block is of the Krakow style. It is a block (length: 1,640 mm, diameter: 600 mm) that was hewed with a pick and bears traces of treatment on the surface. The block’s ends were processed slightly slantwise and the side walls were slightly flattened.

One interesting fact is that in the early 16th century the average value of a small salt block was comparable to that of a saddled horse.

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