Plunging 367 feet underground beneath one of Romania’s largest cities, the Salina Turda is a salt mine that dates back almost a millennium. In the 1990s, it was reinvented as a tourist attraction–and today, a subterranean theme park that features a bowling alley, an underground lake, and even a Ferris Wheel.
Capturing the inexpressible beauty of Salina Turda has defied wordsmiths for centuries, but not the lens of photographer Richard John Seymour. His stunning series of the 2,000-year old salt mine is the next best thing to going to Salina Turda yourself. In Seymour’s photographs, Salina Turda doesn’t look so much like a theme park as it does another world–or series of worlds. Sometimes it appears as a bioluminescent alien organism; other times, an underground military base; and still others, a neon cathedral that sunk through a crack in the Earth.
Its sheer scale is part of what makes Salina Turda so hard to put into words, says Seymour. “The Salina itself feels like a huge empty hall,” he explains. “For the size of the space there were relatively few people, and the sounds of the bowling, shouts, and laughter echo throughout the whole space. The place is very dark, but for an subterranean space the air quality is really quite good, it feels quite fresh inside which was definitely unexpected. There is a mixture between the old mining infrastructure, elevated walkways, staircases, as well as the more modern interventions. At times it felt genuinely quite risky, which is ironically not part of the theme park experience at all.”
The project came about thanks to a grant from the Romanian Cultural Institute–not to photograph Salina Turda, but to capture Romania’a capital city, Bucharest. As research for the project, he started shooting the nearby area. “I really believe that to understand the city you have to understand the countryside that feeds into it, and therefore I started researching the Romanian landscape and sites that I found particularly interesting,” he says.
According to Seymour, Salina Turda’s pitch black environment made it uniquely challenging to shoot. “Salina Turda was one of the most difficult spaces I’ve ever had to photograph purely because of the fact that it is so dark inside,” he says. “I wanted to capture the way that people were using the space, and some shots were even taken from on a boat to get particularly interesting angles.”
Prints of Seymour’s Salina Turda series are available for purchase directly from the artist.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article linked to the wrong website for Richard John Seymour. We’re sorry for the error.