By Kelly Wise Valdes
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is one of the must-see destinations while visiting Bogotá, Colombia. The Cathedral is located about an hour’s scenic drive from Colombia’s capital to the small city of Zipaquirá. It is a popular religious and touristic destination that is remarkable because it was built inside a salt mine, which requires visitors to travel 220 yards underground, or more than 2 football fields, to see it.
The current cathedral opened to the public in 1995, but its history dates back to the pre-Columbian people called the Muiscas. The Muiscas had been extracting salt from the mines in that area since the fifth century where they used the salt for a trading commodity. Miners carved a little church and alter where they would say daily prayers and ask the patron saint of miners for safety.
In 1950, builders started constructing the Salt Cathedral, which was finally inaugurated on August 15, 1954 and dedicated to Our Lady of Rosary, the patron saint of miners. However, because the Cathedral was carved inside an active mine, structural problems and safety concerns led authorities to shut down the sanctuary in 1990. In 1991 the construction of a new cathedral began, 200 feet under the older one. The corridors and sanctuaries were built as additions to the caves left behind by previous mining operations. After the dramatic lighting completed the cathedral, it was re-opened in 1995.
Zipaquirá’s Salt Cathedral is considered to be one of the most outstanding architectural and artistic achievements of Colombian architecture and is considered the modern age architectural jewel.
The cathedral is broken up into 14 small chapels connected by tunnels. Each chapel represents the Stations of the Cross, or Jesus Christ’s last journey before crucifixion. There are spots to kneel and pray at each station. The cathedral also has three naves and a monumental cross, which is illuminated from the base, projecting a large cross-shaped shadow in the ceiling The naves also include the icons of the birth of Jesus and the baptism of Jesus, with a waterfall symbolizing the Jordan River.
This underground cathedral hosts more than 13 million visitors from around the world each year.
More than 10,000 foreign tourists and 40,000 Colombian tourists visit each month. There is a formal English-speaking tour that includes a ‘light show’ (synchronized LED and music) and 3D educational movie about the cathedral. Mass is held every Sunday. For more information, visit www.viator.com/Bogota-attractions/Zipaquira-Salt-Cathedral/.