The Cathedral of Salt is an enclosure built inside the salt mines of Zipaquirá, in the department of Cundinamarca, Colombia.
In fact it is a tourist site, it is more like a museum than a true cathedral temple because it is not the seat of any prelate.
The architectural and artistic design of the new Cathedral of Sal, is characteristic of the Bogota architect Roswell Garavito Pearl, which was approved after the election of the project that contained a total of 44 proposals in a contest convened by the Colombian Society of Architects in 1990; While the technical engineering direction was executed by the Bogota engineer Jorge Enrique Castelblanco Reyes.
Inside is a rich artistic collection, especially of salt and marble sculptures in an atmosphere full of a deep religious sense that attracts tourists.
The Cathedral of Sal de Zipaquirá is considered one of the most remarkable architectural and artistic achievements of Colombian architecture, even being awarded the title of architectonic jewel of modernity.
The importance of the Cathedral lies in its value as a cultural heritage, Religious and environmental.
In 2007 through a contest to choose the 7 Marvels of Colombia; Salt Cathedral won the largest vote; Turning it into Wonder No.1 of Colombia, although it was also proposed among the New Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
The underground church is part of the cultural complex “Parque de la Sal”, thematic cultural space dedicated to mining, geology and natural resources.
The Cathedral of Salt is located in the City of Zipaquirá, population of the Department of Cundinamarca, to 29 kilometers to the north of the Capital District of Bogota and to an altitude of 2,680 m.
By rail the Cathedral is about 48 kilometers from the city of Bogota, the route is made by the Tren de la Sabana.
The population is not only famous for the exploitation of salt, but also for one of the oldest human remains found in Colombia in the El Abra Valley.
The Salt Park
Although the Cathedral itself becomes the main attraction, it is part of the thematic complex El Parque de la Sal, which has an area of 32 ha and constitutes a unique nature reserve that contrasts with one of the activities of exploitation of the resources that most alter ecosystems: mining.
In the park, visitors can not only admire a surprising encounter between the delicacy of art and the harshness of mining, but also get an interesting lesson in geology and ways of conserving natural resources parallel to the development of a country.
In this way, the Park, in conjunction with the Cathedral of Salt, is an objective of national and international tourism and is particularly interested in ecotourism, religious tourism and lovers of geological sciences.
The most important sites of the Salt Park are:
- The square where the cross (4.20 ms height) is located in what is called “El Eje Sacro”
- The Saline Dome
- The Museum of the Brine, built in the disused tanks. It is one of the most important places of the Salt Park after the Cathedral. In the same, the visitor acquires a pedagogical idea of the process of the exploitation of the salt, the geological studies and the history, construction and engineering of the Cathedral of Salt.
- The reservoir
- The forest area
- The Cathedral of Salt, underground church where it is in addition to the religious sanctuary, the Auditorium.
The salt flats of Zipaquirá
The antiquity and importance of the saltworks of Zipaquirá were widely referenced by the sage Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) during his visit to the place in 1801.
“He began his Humboldt relationship by comparing this deposit with those he had seen in Europe, such as Spain, Switzerland, Poland and the Tyrol. The importance of this exploitation in the economy, and especially its relevance, For governments by means of tax collection. “
In his book Reasoned memory of the salt flats of Zipaquira Humboldt describes the object of his study, as it is referenced by the editors and, scientific and visionary as it was, leaves notes of unquestionable value:
“He rejects the idea that the Zipaquira mine is linked to other formations such as those exploited at Nemocón and Sesquilé, and evaluates the capacity of the Zipaquirá mine and concludes that it should measure 500,000 toises square. Excavation, and points out that the way it is done will be a disadvantage for its future exploitation. It recommends that the exploitation be carried out by means of galleries, as is done in Europe, since mines dedicated to the exploitation of rock salt do not require Of galleries aimed with wood, which would make them more expensive.”
Studies carried out by archaeologists and geologists on the spot have found that the exploitation of mines occurred as early as the fifth century and corresponds to one of the main economic activities and to the development of the Muisca culture in the Cundiboyacense Altiplano.
The salt deposits of the Zipaquirá Mountains have a dating of 200 million years, raised on the surface in the late tertiary period 30 million years ago and concentrated in the place where they are today.
Under pressure and heat, the salt moves in a similar way to the glaciers, so that the trace of the stratification is lost and a homogeneous mass of salt is created.
The accumulation of the salt deposits formed mountains above the level of the high plateau, which facilitated the excavation of tunnels for their extraction.
Evidences of old exploitations of the deposits are dated in times previous to the arrival of the Spaniards during Century XVI.
The mines already had a religious sanctuary tradition made by the miners before the inauguration of the Cathedral in 1954, which was dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, which in Catholic religion is the Patron of Miners.
In December 1995, the current Cathedral was inaugurated.
History of the Cathedral
In 1801, Humboldt argued that the mode of extraction of salt in porridge (used by the inhabitants of Tocancipá and Gachancipá) was not practical and generated additional expenses, so he proposed to use cauldrons to extract salt.
This proposal began to be put into practice in 1816, the same year in which the first tunnel under the direction of Jacobo Wiesner was opened.
In 1834 and under the direction of the engineers Mac-Douall and Nirkmainden was built the Guasá socavón.
In 1855 the El Manzano shaft (also known as El Zanjón) was built.
In 1876 and under the direction of Trofimo Verany were constructed the Pocsí and Peñalisa socavones. These basements would be the basis of the cathedral.
The ancient cathedral
In 1932, Luis Angel Arango (director of the Bank of the Republic) had the idea of building an underground chapel, impressed by the devotion that the workers showed before starting their work day, decorating the basins with images of saints to whom they implored protection.
The construction task was entrusted to the architect José María González.
With the support of President Laureano Gómez, on October 7, 1950, construction began on the cathedral, which was inaugurated on August 15, 1954.
The mine then possessed four levels of exploitation, each with an extension of 80 m. The old cathedral was located on the second level.
The old cathedral was 120 m long, with an area of 5,500 m² and a height of 22 m.
In its interior there were 6 columns, each with a base of 80 m². It had capacity for 8,000 people.
At the rear of the cathedral was a large wooden cross, which was illuminated from its base to project a shadow that represented Christ with open arms.
In the right ship were the choir and the stations of the Viacrucis decorated with great Roman golden numbers.
At the bottom of this nave was the chapel of the Virgin of the Rosary, whose altar carved in rock was the image of the Virgin, molded by Daniel Rodriguez Moreno.
The image, which has a dimension of 70 cm in height, was transferred to the new Cathedral.
The left ship was called “The Birth” and it had a grotto that symbolized the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem; This space led to the Baptistery which was represented by a waterfall, symbol of the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River.
The design and distribution of the ships was inspired by the life and work of Jesus, and the mysteries of passing through the earth as the son of God.
The Cathedral presented a majestic appearance to the visitor of which the play of effects of light was placed in such a way as to create an atmosphere of symbols projected on walls and ceilings.
The old cathedral was closed in September 1992 due to structural failures.
The new cathedral
The construction of the current cathedral was begun in 1991, 60 m below the old cathedral.
The Institute for Industrial Development, the Salinas Concession and the Colombian Society of Architects launched a call for an architectural competition to choose the design of the new cathedral.
44 proposals were received, of which the winner was the architect Roswell Garavito Pearl, who in the architectural design included several symbols that sought to emphasize the mystical-religious aspect.
The new cathedral was inaugurated on December 16, 1995, with the presence of President Ernesto Samper.
The design comprises the following three main sections:
The Viacrucis: the entrance door leads to the tunnel, along which are the stations of the Viacrucis (Via Calvario), which consist of small altars carved in salt rock. The tunnel leads to the Dome.
The Dome, the descent ramp and the balconies: you then arrive at the main descent ramp. The middle section starts from the Dome, from which you can see the immense cross carved in low relief. From there you can descend towards the balconies on the chambers, the chorus and the stairs of the labyrinth of the Narthex.
The ships of the Cathedral: the final section leads to the center of the Cathedral where the space structures of the Cathedral are divided. These structures are interconnected by a crack that symbolizes the birth and death of Christ. In the central nave is the cross of 16 m, the High Altar and the communion that separates the sanctuary from the Assembly; In the depth of the ship is The Creation of Man, Tribute to Michelangelo work carved in marble by the sculptor Carlos Enrique Rodríguez Arango. Four huge cylindrical columns symbolize the four evangelists and they are crossed by a crack that symbolizes the nativity and descent of Christ.
A power plant of its own and a vehicular route that can only be used on special occasions are part of the complex of this monument, as well as an optimal infrastructure of services prepared for the attention and safety of visitors, pilgrims or tourists.
Other salt constructions
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, although unique in the world as a religious and cultural sanctuary, is not the only experience of using a mine as an alternative space.
Another similar experience can be found in the salt mines of Wieliczka, the largest salt museum in Europe, built in a 700-year-old salt mine, 15 km south of Krakow.
The Cathedral of Sal, however, remains as a work of world interest and cultural and historical heritage of Colombia.