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The Salt Cathedral, Zipaquirá

By Wilson Lievano

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Salt Cathedral

The salt cathedral is a must-see for Catholics that visit Bogotá, (Zipaquirá is just 15.5 miles from Bogotá and is accessible by car or train), but the architecture and the fine carving of statues and religious symbols appeal to all kinds of visitors.

The current cathedral is not the original one. As time passed, the water that seeped in from outside (rain is frequent in the region) started to damage the cathedral and pose a threat to visitors. In 1990, the government closed the shrine and started to build a new one 197 feet (about 60 meters) below the old cathedral. The project was completed in 1995 and now covers 2.1 acres of underground tunnels and chambers.

The cathedral is composed of three sections: first there is the Stations of the Cross, where small shrines carved in salt guide visitors through the scenes of the passion and death of Christ. The tradition says that depending on the gravity of your sins and your willingness to repent, you can take one of three stairs to the next level. The more sins, the longer the stairway. Cold tunnels illuminated by blue and white lights lead to the second section, the dome. A ramp takes the visitors deep into the mountain where they can see in the distance a 52-foot cross carved into the wall of the central chamber of the cathedral. Mass is held there every Sunday and on special occasions.

At the bottom is the central chamber, which is supported by four columns that represent the four evangelists and a round marble sculpture of the creation of man, inspired by Michelangelo's Sistine chapel fresco painting. The chamber is also decorated with several angel sculptures meant to be a reproduction of the Pietà, as well as a Nativity scene carved in stone. Further down, there is a concert hall and a path that leads to the surface and a small park dominated by a statue honoring the salt miners that worked in the mine over the centuries.

Salt Cathedral

Entrance to the cathedral is $5 USD for adults and $2.50 USD for kids under 12. There are no religious requirements for admittance. Persons with heart conditions, fear of darkness or enclosed spaces are not encouraged to take the tour. But for the rest, the experience of descending into the darkness might bring them closer to God.

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