Zipaquira is about an hour's ride north of Bogota. It's a tiny town whose primary claim to fame is being close to a cathedral made of salt. Actually, it's a cathedral that's built inside of a defunct salt mine, and the hostel owner in Bogota warned us that it was a cheesy tourist trap. Since we're all about el queso, we decided to fight the big city traffic and make our way up there.
The entrance to the salt mine
The salt deposits in the area have been mined by indigenous people since the 5th century, all the way to pre-hispanic cultures and then to the Spanish in later times. In the 1930s, miners carved a small sanctuary where they could say their daily prayers for protection before starting work. This small altar would later be expanded as part of a huge construction project in 1995, creating a gigantic "Salt Cathedral" inside the mine itself, showcasing the country's prowess in modern architecture.
The Disco-fication of Salt
Everything inside the mine is illuminated with multi-coloured lights. They've really put a lot of effort into making salt look sexy! All it did was make me hella thirsty for grape soda...
We put on some Minion hardhats and explored the darkness of the salt mine
Inside, you can opt to take a guided tour of the salt mine itself. We were led through the darkness of some of the existing tunnels and learned how workers used tools like pickaxes, explosives and railway carts to extract and transport salt out of the mines.
Cool striations and banding on the walls of the mine. Needs a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling...
Neda hard at work mining salt deposits while we all sang, "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go" with a funky back beat
At the end of the tour, we all got paid in salt - just like the old miners did.
Since Neda did all the work, she got a huge chunk of rock salt. Because I just stood around and took pictures, this was my pay...
We walked around the tunnels leading up to the main hall of the Cathedral. When I say tunnels, they are actually huge hallways, perhaps 5m (16ft) tall and wide enough for two tractor trailers to drive past each other! The scale of the place was enormous!
This piece of art is carved right out of the rock and features intricately cut leaves
Every 50 meters or so there would be a tableau called a "Station of the Cross" abstractly representing a scene out of Jesus Christ's life (ie. Crucifixion, Ressurection, Meeting the Apostles, etc). Central to these tableaus would be a giant cross cut out of the rock salt and lit up with colourful lights. There are 14 "Stations of the Crosses" within the tunnels of the Salt Cathedral. These are just a few of them:
Praying at the S-altar...
Crucifix rises up out of the rock
One of the smaller "chapels" in the Cathedral
We walk past the main hall and it's now purple in colour
Just to give you an idea of scale, those are people gathered at the foot of the salt fountain in the distance...
The main hall of the Cathedral is stunning in its sheer immensity!
Guy in a hardhat at the bottom of the picture for scale.
Walking around all the large tableaus was quite remarkable. It seemed like the oversized tunnels stretched for a couple of kms inside the mountain that it was carved into. However, it was only when entering the main cathedral hall that we were bowled over by how large the inside of this place was. In the picture above, this section is 75m (246ft) long and 25m (82ft) high! The cross in the background is 16m (52ft) in height.
The whole cathedral is large enough to hold over 8,000 people. On Sundays, up to 3,000 people visit the Cathedral, despite the fact that it has no bishop and it's not officially recognized by the Catholic Church.
Balcony from where you can view the main hall from above
Like most of the crosses in the tableaus, it's actually not a solid piece of rock but a cutout to show the wall behind it, which is illuminated a different colour. Like one of them octopus illusions...
I'm positive this is what these kneeling blocks were made for...
Cross cut out of a curved wall
We walked past the main hall again and noticed it had changed colours! Groovy!
As we left the Salt Cathedral, we both remarked how it was one of the coolest things we've seen in Colombia. Especially since it seems that all we've been doing is hanging out in cities and towns lately... So glad we didn't heed the Bogota hostel owner's warnings about this place. I could see how it could be seen as cheesy to a local, but they did a really good job glamming up the whole experience.
Doing the Disco Rainsuit Dance
Spending all that time underground is like being inside a casino. You're completely cut off from what's happening outside with regards to time and weather, etc. We walked outside to see the late afternoon clouds working up to its daily showers. We rode for awhile out of Zipaquira before the inevitable rains forced us to do our side-of-the-road boogie besides our bikes.
We're probably not going to get very far this evening...