Colombia: Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá

10th November: On our last day in Bogota we took a day trip to see the famous underground salt cathedral in Zipaquira, a couple of hours outside the city on 2 local buses. We got the Transmilenio bus from Las Aguas in the centre of Bogota (1,500 Col. Peso each) to Portal Norte which took about 40 minutes and then changed on to the smaller local bus for Zipaquira (3,000 Col. Pesos each). The photo above is of the main cross in the temple – the largest underground cross in the world…16 metres high and 10 metres wide.

It’s all a bit confusing when you don’t speak Spanish but we managed to buy our bus tickets okay with a lot of terribly spoken Spanish on our part, hand waving and smiling and a lot of laughter on the locals part. Once in Zipaquira a really friendly local music student showed us the way to the cathedral which is a 15 minute walk uphill from where the bus dropped us, walking through the beautiful local town square en route.

It was well worth the trip because the cathedral is one of the most stunning things either of us has ever seen and we cannot understand why it isn’t one of the 7 Wonders of the World – most likely because the new 7 Wonders were picked by popular vote and so few tourists come to Colombia; even if they do for some reason the majority of them don’t visit the cathedral. It is more impressive than the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil (although I haven’t seen that in person only on documentaries and photos) and from an engineering point of view is more stunning that Chichen Itza which we have both been to. Most of the photos of the interior of the cathedral are taken from the internet because without a tripod it is very difficult to take photos inside as it is so dark.
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá (Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá) is built in an underground series of salt mines 200 metres inside a salt mountain near the town of Zipaquirá, in Cundinamarca, Colombia. It was opened to the public in 1995 and is 75 metres long and 18 metres high and can hold 8,400 people. A vast entrance tunnel descends into the Catholic cathedral passing 14 small chapels en route which each represent the stations of the cross illustrating the events of Jesus’ last journey. Each station is an area carved in to the salt walls and has a cross and several kneeling platforms also all carved from the salt; and which actually looks like marble until the guide shone his torch close to the structures and the light passes deep in to the salt, the internal illumination of which can easily be seen. After walking through the tunnels deeper in to the mine you reach the temple at the bottom which has three sections representing the birth, life and death of Jesus.

Years before the Cathedral was built, miners had carved a sanctuary and in 1950 the construction of the bigger project began and the Salt Cathedral was inaugurated in 1954. However, as the cathedral was carved inside an active working mine, structural problems and safety concerns led the authorities to shut down the sanctuary in 1990. In 1991 the construction of a new Cathedral was undertaken, 200 feet under the older one. This new Cathedral was inaugurated in 1995. Its various corridors and sanctuaries were achieved by making small but significant additions to the caves left behind by previous mining operations.

According to research the salt deposits in Zipaquirá were formed approximately 250 million years ago and were raised above sea level during the late Tertiary period when the Andes were formed, underground pressure forcing the salt upwards through several layers of rock.

For an additional fee there is a museum near the entrance of the cathedral explaining the history and processes of salt mining in Colombia but it is pretty basic and a lot of the brass signs are worn away and difficult to read.

Outside the entrance to the main park leading up to the cathedral entrance there is a second museum with a pottery display also included in the ‘complete’ entrance fee for the cathedral and 2 museums. Unless you are particularly interested in ancient pottery then it’s not really worth the extra entrance fee., Walking down from the entrance to the salt cathedral back to the town we passed through the really pretty park which has been built up around the cathedral as a tourist attraction.

The red rooftop tiles of Zipaquira. The town is well worth a visit in it’s own right with lots of restaurants and shops and a beautiful town square.

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