I have visited mines before in Bolivia and New Zealand. I’ve stood on salt flats in Iran and Bolivia , gone underground in Turkey in Kaymakli but all those memories were about to be joined by an exciting and obscure new one.
While in Romania, I ended up visiting an incredible underground salt mine in the barely known town of Cacica in the north of the country in southern Bucovina (for the record – northern Bucovina is actually in the Ukraine). This is no ordinary tourist trip.
Cacica is a town in northern Romania. It’s in the region known as Southern Bucovina so it’s not too far from the Ukraine border and has a population of 1,408.
Tourism hasn’t taken off in Romania the way it has in other Eastern European countries, which means getting to Cacica is not that easy. The best way to do it realistically is to hire and car and drive there yourself which is probably the best way to see Romania. However, I took a double train up to this region, first from Bucharest to Suceava, then a train to Campulung Moldovenesc (where I stayed in Dor De Bucovina).
From there I actually went on a tour of some monasteries in the region which was organised for me and I’d recommend. So if you are not driving, you can ask tour operators in Campulung Moldovenesc to add Cacica into your itinerary for the region. Please don’t miss it if you’re in the area. Though if you do miss it, there are similar underground salt mines at Praid and Turda.
The charm of the drive to Cacia – rural Romania at its best, stuck behind a juggernaut of logs.
Cacica preserves archaeological vestiges that are over 5,000 years old. Due to the local salted water sources, the monks of the Humor Monastery erected here in the time of Stefan the Great, organised the supervising and exploitation of salted water.
Cacica developed extensively under the Austro-Hungarian Empire when, after the discovery of the rock salt deposit in 1790, the salt mine was built. The mine soon attracted many settlers of Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian, German and Transylvanian origin.
The descendants now form an active and captivating multicultural community. As you get deeper down in the mine, information boards at various intervals provide informative and welcome information in a few languages, one of which is English.
I took some water in with me and I’d recommend it. There is no fresh air as you are going underground here and no daylight so those who get claustrophobic please consider this before you head down.
St. Barbara’s Chapel — at 27 metres below the surface is this church, St. Barbara’s Chapel. This is the first room where the salt was exploited. The work started in 1803 and the salt plug was manually sculptured. It’s a work of human hard work and art.
Every year on the 4th December, priests of three different confessions, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic and Orthodox have a common sermon here, dedicated to Saint Barbara, the miners protector, whose icon is in the Southern Wall, sculptured in the salt rock.
The Salted Lake – a bit further down some steps and along a corridor and you come to the salted lake! It’s not actually a natural lake but the salt is natural of course. It/s 38 – 42 metres below the surface. The lake is artificial and has saturated brine in which salt crystals formed throughout time could be seen.
There is a raft on the lake that was once used to carry guests to events in the ballroom, yes here 40 metres below the ground is a ballroom. Yes, there’s actually an underground ballroom – incredible! It has a balcony looking over it with chandeliers and a dance floor.
The underground ballroom.
The Party Zone/Grotto — OK so that might not be the real name for it but with sunbeds, wide open spaces and safety from the world outside, this grotto part of the underground salt mine is the final room you get to on the tour and it feels like a party zone. All it’s missing is a wee bar in the corner, football on the TV and a bowling alley.
The Football Pitch — yes! It’s an underground football pitch.
The Museum – as well as the information boards along the way and some souvenirs, the tour also includes a small museum on Cacica.
Salt artefacts in the museum.