Words and photos by Francisco Goncalves
Zipaquirá is a small city, one and a half hour by car or bus from Colombia’s capital Bogotá, where you can find grand buildings in the Spanish colonial style, including a rich historical centre and beautiful palm-tree-decorated square. Despite these handsome monuments – and some great restaurants and bars – Zipaquirá’s most famous attraction by far is its Salt Cathedral, considered the “1st Wonder of Colombia“.
The Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church built inside the tunnels of an old salt mine, 200 meters underground in a rock salt (also know as Halite) mountain. Even when masses and weddings are held at the temple, the Cathedral term is symbolical because there is no bishop and therefore no official status as a cathedral in Catholicism… and now that you know this, avoid saying it out loud, as the locals don’t like their beloved temple belittled as a simple church.
For the traveller, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a believer or not, the important thing is appreciating the amazing architecture inside this cave-cathedral. Almost everything is carved in the rock salt, or otherwise made of salt, including: statues, a monumental cross on the main altar, 14 small chapels representing the Stations of the Cross, the Dome (every cathedral must have a dome), and surprisingly good copies of Michelangelo’s masterpieces The Creation of Adam and La Pietá, and even a well-equipped auditorium. Everything is beautifully illuminated, but if you want to take decent pictures inside be sure to take a monopod with you – or prepare to practice your surgeon’s pulse.
I recommend paying for the guided tour, it takes about an hour and is the best way to find out about the many curiosities and interesting stories surrounding the Cathedral. Apart from taking care with your footwork (pits, holes and sharp rocks abound), bear in mind that Zipaquirá is a really high area and going deep might not be healthy for some visitors: that’s the reason you’ll find oxygen tanks and masks along the path and even an ambulance parked down there. If you’re tired of the deep and the dark, there is an interesting complex outside the Cathedral called Salt Park, with museums, parks and the visitor centre.