Fantasy or reality? Turda Salt Mine Museum
Author: Ramona Deaconu
Located in Transylvania, Romania, Turda Museum is a place that has been transformed from an abandoned salt mine into a museum and underground amusement park. Let`s find out the story!
Salt is the only rock humans can eat, being vital for their body to function properly. Nowadays we can find it easily on supermarket shelves, being an affordable product for almost everyone. Yet it wasn`t always so. A visit to the Salt Museum of Turda can be seen as a jump into the past, witnessing the days when salt was considered “gold”. What was long ago a place of hard work, has become today a museum of salt, which is more than 100 meters belowground.
The first evidence of the operation of the mine dates from pre-Roman period and lasted until 1932, when mining activity was stopped due to low yield and poor endowments. After that, it was closed and then reopened in 1992 with touristic purposes. The real potential of this place was discovered in 2010 when the local authorities started the modernization procedures. History of the mine is even more impressive if we consider that all underground galleries were dug by hand and machines and no explosives were used. The salt that was obtained from the galleries was extracted through a production well by using a machine called “crivac.” This is a pendulum extraction system that it is also used in modern mining, the differences being significant in the power in which it is driven.
If you haven`t had the chance to visit a salt mine yet, I can assure you this experience could be a very special and surprisingly one that stimulates all your senses. At the end of a long tunnel that was once used as a salt transport gallery, beyond the darkness, from the first step into the mine, a strong smell of salt stings the nostrils. Arriving in Joseph Mine, also called the “Hall of echoes”, you can make fun of your own voice and express your anger or joy, screaming from the top of your lungs. Because of the special acoustics, the sound reverberates up to 10 times. The salt layers beauty is a pleasure for the eye and makes you feel like touching the walls. Underground space is perceived differently because everything is at a much larger scale than human. Personally, I felt smaller, insignificant and absorbed by the majesty and grandeur of the salt galleries. Since I was a child, I saw the underground as a fantasy world that gave me incredible thrills. Perhaps this is the same feeling which inspired the architects in creating this scenography that could very well be attributed to a science fiction film.
Before visiting this place, I was also wondering why anyone would want to spend time inside a mountain. Now, I found out at least two reasons. First, the saline is good for our health. Experts say that its microclimate offers many benefits, especially for people suffering from respiratory diseases. These benefits are due to a constant temperature of 12 ºC and humidity of 70-80%. Secondly, the mine itself is an interesting place worth seeing. However, to make this space more attractive architects had the task of creating a dynamic multifunctional space in which people spend their leisure time while taking advantage of the saline environment. Thus, the underground space includes a number of recreational attractions achieved by restoring the old salt extraction equipment or by making new sculptural structures that keep the same design expression. Even if everything looks like something from the future, the intervention respects the history of this place.
The biggest challenge that the architects had to meet was to find materials that resist to the particular environment in the saline. The new structures are made of fir wood and their shape is emphasized through light tubes. Each sculptural object becomes stage for a different activity and holds a sport arena, an amphitheater, mini golf course and bowling lanes. The landscape is completed by a small lake formed by the accumulation of water infiltration, so you can continue the tour with a boat. To my mind the mine becomes a playground for children, but also for their parents, because the atmosphere makes you enter the game and, why not, to remember the childhood fantasies.
Unfortunately, this dream ends too soon. I remember when I went out and I suddenly woke up blinded by the sun rays. All the magic disappeared and I left with the impression that the old mine was broken from the outside world. As it is, its design may well compensate for the lack of quality public spaces throughout the city. It made me wonder if this place is indeed functioning as a utopian community space, broken from the outside world, or it’s just an amusement park that could be considered a child’s dream inspired by the novels of Jules Verne. I haven`t found an answer yet, but I hope the local authorities will get inspired by this intervention to improve also another places in the area.
What do you think? Is this an inspiring place? At least a few students from an animation school thought so. The video they created is posted down here. Have a look and judge yourself!