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Located in the mountain town of Zipaquirá, the Catedral de Sal – just 48 kilometres from Bogotá – is a spectacular must-see attraction. An architectural treasure, the country’s most famous sanctuary, a natural wonder of the world: there is no lack of superlatives to describe the salt cathedral. Carved into the dark corridors of a salt mine, this impressive church is truly unique.
A church inside a salt mine, it does seem an odd combination. However, for centuries the mine workers have been carving chapels out of the rock salt walls of the mine. Here the workers prayed every day before going to work to ask for God’s protection in carrying out their dangerous work. The first official cathedral, built in 1954, was closed in 1990 but 5 years later a new cathedral was inaugurated. The design by architect Roswell Garavito Pearl is often regarded as one of the most impressive feats of Colombian architecture.
More than 250 tons of salt stone was removed to make room for this cathedral, 180 metres underground. Upon entry, you are immediately plunged into complete darkness and will notice a strong scent of minerals. But then you will see the stations of the cross: 14 chapels that represent Jesus’ Via Dolorosa on his way to the cross. Each chapel is carved into the rock by various artists. There are also 3 altars that represent the birth, baptism, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The nave of the church lies in the deepest point of the salt cave; aisles on the left and right lead to the 16-metre-high central cross behind the main altar. The interior of the cathedral includes a rich collection of artwork made from salt or marble. Admire the beautiful guardian angel by Italian sculptor Ludovico Consorte and La Piedad, a tribute to the Muisca Indians who inhabited this region. The unique lighting inside the church creates an ephemeral, mysterious atmosphere.
The Catedral de Sal is not just a tourist attraction or an architectural masterpiece. The church is still used for church services. Every Sunday at noon there is a holy mass; to attend pleasereserve online
in advance. After mass, attendees may ask for the blessing of religious artefacts. The cathedral is also open by appointment only for those who wish to renew their wedding vows. Unfortunately, weddings and baptisms are no longer held here.
A guided tour of the Catedral de Sal takes about an hour. The guide leads visitors through all the corridors and shares various interesting facts. The so-called Miners Route is also worthwhile. On this tour you will experience what is was like to be a mine worker deep underground. There is also plenty to see and do outside of the church. The Brine Museum is completely dedicated to the process of salt extraction. Visitors can watch a 3D movie that provides a simple explanation of the geological processes that formed the salt. You may also tackle the highest climbing wall in Colombia.