Wieliczka [vʲɛˈlʲit͡ʂka] is a town (2006 population: 19,128) in southern Poland in the Kraków metropolitan area, and situated (since 1999) in Lesser Poland Voivodeship; previously, it was in Kraków Voivodeship (1975–1998). The town was founded in 1290 by Duke Premislas II of Poland.
The city of Wieliczka lies in the south central part of Poland, within the Małopolska region, in the Kraków area. The city is located 13 km (8.1 mi) to the southeast of Kraków. Under the town is the Wieliczka Salt Mine – one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines (the oldest is at Bochnia, Poland, 20 km (12 mi) from Wieliczka), which has been in operation since prehistoric times.
The town lies in a valley between two ridges that stretch from west to east: south Wieliczka foothills, north Bogucice sands, including the Wieliczka-Gdów Upland. The south ridge is higher, while the northern ridge leads to national road 94. Near the town lies the A4 highway (E40 European route), which in a near future will connect Kraków to Ukraine. Despite the small area, the city’s relative altitude accounts for more than 137 –m–: the highest mountain reaches 361,8 metres above the sea, and the lowest point lies at an altitude of 224 metres above sea level.
The first settlers were probably from the Celtic tribes. In later years they were driven out by the Slavic population. The importance of mining deposits arose after the capital of Poland was moved from Gniezno to Kraków by Casimir I the Restorer. Brewing brought huge revenues, which the prince needed to maintain the court and rebuild the destroyed country. Systematic development of the mining settlement stopped the Tartar invasion, which destroyed Kraków and surroundings.
In 1252 deposits of salt and potasium were discovered and henceforthward the extration of salt reached deep regions in the earth. In the year 1289, Henryk IV Probus, then Lord of Kraków issued a document authorising the brothers Jeskowi and Hysinboldowi to rule the town of Wieliczka. The next year Duke Przemysł II gave Wieliczka town privileges and in 1311, during the reign of Władysław Łokietek, then General Secretary of Geslar de Kulpen joined the Rebellion of wójt Albert. After terminating the rebellion Albert fled to Silesia, where he served as Steward of Wieliczka.
In 1651 the Wieliczka population was decimated by a plague. In the years 1655-1660, at the time of the Swedish invasion, the city was in economic decline. The mine was plundered and burned by the Swedes. The Swedish crew guarded the mine and the taxes were raised upon the population. Gabriel Wojniłłowicz alongside with Jerzy Sebastian Lubomirski proceeded to organize approximately 3,000 people which took part in the liberation of Wieliczka, Bochnia and Wiśnicz. The battle took place in Kamionna, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, where the Poles attacked the hill, and referred their victory.
On 9 June 1772 the occupation of Wieliczka by the forces of the Austrian began. In 1809 Wieliczka was incorporated into the Duchy of Warsaw by the Austrians and so the Habsburgs regained the city after the fall of the Duchy and its partition by the Congress of Vienna. From then on the official German name Groß Salz became part of Galicia. In the time of the partition, unemployment arose because the Austrians brought modern equipment which caused a cease of production throughout the city and surrounding areas, due to low wages, forcing were dismiss en masse of Polish miners. That led to the arrival of German, Hungarian, Croatian and Transylvanian miners, changing so the ethnic composition of the city in favor of the immigrant population. After the outbreak of the uprising in 1846 in Kraków by Edward Dembowski, who became Secretary to Jan Tyssowski, the dictator of the revolution, the miners seized power in the Wieliczka salt mine. In the period of Galician autonomy there was a gradual development of the city. The mine became the largest in concentration of miners in Galicia. In the Nitra district, there were over 2000 workers employed.
Only by the end of the nineteenth century there was public housing development. The city expanded with private money, mining built colonies (settlement for families of mining workers), a salinarną power plant (supplied electricity not only to the mine, but also to the city). In the inter-war period, Wieliczkaits saw the development of territorial area, new residential districts were formed until that in 1933 a miners’ strike took place, due to the reduction of wages by 13%.
On 7 September 1939 began the occupation of Poland by the German army, which entered the country coming from Slovakia. The city was crowded, as Wieliczka moved approximately 5.4 thousand people of Jewish origin to Kraków after the opening of the ghetto. On 21 January 1945 the Soviet army invaded Wieliczka. After World War II, began a period of systematic development of the city. In 1978 UNESCO decided to list Wielicką salt mine as a world cultural heritage. In 1994 the city was declared a historical monument.