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Cathedral of salt
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-12-18 18:16:43 | Zipaquira, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Keywords: , church, mine
This morning, I went to visit what will probably become a new inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list in the next few years. North of Bogotá, there is a region where they had salt mine for over 500 years now. There was a proposition to add that region to the UNESCO list in 2012 and I believe it will become reality in the next few years. I specifically went to visit the salt cathedral in the town of Zipaquira. That underground church has been nominated the first wonder of Colombia, so I believe the government will do all they can to push this site onto the World Heritage.

The church is HUGE and is nicknamed 'Cathedral' because of its sheer size. Although it is a Catholic church, it is not a religious cathedral (no bishop). This second church on the site has been opened about 20 years ago, after the first one was condemned for structural fails putting visitors in danger. The first church was constructed on the first level of mine exploration (near the top of the mountain), while this second one is one level below. It's very possible the mining in the second level caused instability in the structure of the church above.

One of the stations.

They extracted lots of salt (like 250 millions tons) of salt from this second level and they couldn't do more without risking the stability of upper level. Then they converted the main paths leading into the mine into Stations of the cross path building niches... leading to 3 major naves where there are actual mass celebrations every day.

The structure is really impressive and the few pictures here don't do it justice in any way. It's one of the most visited tourist attractions of the country and being in there will render anyone speechless even if, like myself, they are there just for the architectural aspect. There are 'holes' that are over 200 m long, others that are over 50 m high.  It's well lit and there are impressive pieces of art in many locations.

One breath-taking sculpture made of a wall of salt.

Since we enter by the side of the mountain, we barely go down by 30 metres (100 feet) or so, but we are in fact 180 m (595 feet) below the surface. The mine is still active, with two other levels underneath being in operation. On the location of the cathedral, there's a lot of other activities to do, including museums about archaeology and the mining operations and even a climbing wall!

The proposed UNESCO site doesn't include only the church, but three salt mines areas around the church. As I said, it's considered the jewel of Colombia, so they will push it hard... and there's a precedent in Poland where another salt mine complex has been re-purposed and it has been added to the UNESCO list. In 2012, Colombia submitted this site along with many others... I'm confident at least 2 of them will make the list in the next few years.

Related posts:
Sanctuary Las Lajas
Ouro Preto
Cathedral of León
Early16th century monasteries


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