People who visit the Colombian city of Zipaquirá, just know they are lured there by an imposing Catholic shrine located 200 meters (600 feet) underground: the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. This tourist destination opened in 1995 and was built inside the abandoned salt mine of the city, just an hour away from Bogota, the capital of this beautiful country.
This underground cathedral is part of the cultural complex “Parque de la Sal”, space dedicated to the site’s natural resources, mining and geology. Once inside the shrine, visitors are surprised as they walk through countless passages, admiring a variety of religious figures made of salt, and marvel as they see the details and even taste its walls and columns.
The First Cathedral
Exploitation of the Zipaquirá salt mine began in early 19th century. The excavations gave way to large hollow caverns where the deeply religious miners working in the salt mine carved a sanctuary, as a place for their daily prayers asking for protection to the saints before starting work. The constant need of the miners to feel safe motivated Luis Arango Angel, manager of the Banco de la República, to build an underground chapel. After almost three years of intense work, the first cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, patron saint of miners, opened on August 15th 1954. Unfortunately, the cathedral was carved in an active mine which caused structural damages, that forced the cathedral to close in 1990.
The New Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá
Construction of a new salt cathedral begun in 1991. On this opportunity, an architectural competition was opened with the sole purpose of making a selection of the best designs. The Architect Roswell Garavito Pearl won the project and modified the entrance tunnel, the dome and sacristy., making it into the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá we know today.
This new shrine has amazing and richly detailed salt and marble sculptures made by skilled craftsmen. Visitors are awed by the monumental cross (16 meters high/10 meters wide), the stations depicting the Way of the Cross on one of the naves leading to the Cathedral, and the extraordinary water mirrors on the other nave. The sound and light show that accompanies visitors during the tour, is one of the most striking aspects within the sanctuary. The cathedral also has Latin America’s largest led screen.
Colombia’s Architectural Wonder
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is considered a major breakthrough in Colombian architecture. Its importance lies in its value as a cultural, religious, and environmental heritage. This shrine went from being an unusual, even impossible idea to perform, to becoming something real, tangible, and extremely impressive. This truly impressive architectural feat was declared Colombia’s first World Heritage Wonder of the World in 2007 by UNESCO.
Things to consider when you visit
The tour of the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá takes about an hour, so it is recommended to wear appropriate footwear to comfortably walk during the visit. It is also important to dress warmly since the temperature is of approximately 16 ° C inside the shrine. The tour within the mine must be guided at all times. Far from what many might think, the cathedral has enough ventilation and large halls, so claustrophobic visitors will have no problem on the tour. But most important is, undoubtedly, the security offered within the architectural complex: it has an electric power plant and road vehicles to evacuate if necessary in case of any emergency. In this sense, tourists can feel completely safe during the tour.
This magical building hidden within the depths of Earth, not only was created by nature but by the superhuman effort of many brave people. The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is one of the most famous Catholic churches of Colombia, a stunning masterpiece worth witnessing, at least once in a lifetime. If you want to escape from reality and immerse yourself in an extraordinary underground world filled with art, color and sound, do not hesitate to visit this wonder located in Latin America.