Salt Cathedral: The First Wonder of Colombia

Posted by on Jan 18, 2012 in Colombia | 0 comments

Only 32 miles from Bogota, buried deep in Zipaquira’s halite (rock salt) hill is a beautiful underground temple built by the hands of salt miners.  It’s nothing short of an architectural masterpiece and in 2007 earned the distinction of Colombia’s First Wonder.

It is an engineering marvel. To build it 250 thousand tons of rock salt had to be removed from a depth of 200 meters.  But engineering brilliance aside, it is a sacred place laced with biblical meaning and symbolism.

Upon entering the salt mine we solemnly retraced the steps of Jesus Christ’s last journey by visiting 14 small chapels.  Each descending chapel represents one of the 14 Stations of the Cross, a series of powerful scenes commonly used in the Catholic faith to commemorate Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and death.  A different cross is carved into the halite of each chapel, symbolically representing a different scene.

Here the cross is below a kneeling platform. This chapel depicts Station Number 3: Jesus falls the first time.

Here the cross is brightly illuminated by phosphorescent light representing Jesus release of worldly pain. This chapel depicts Station Number 12: Jesus dies on the cross

Next we stepped into a grand cylindrical chamber with a perfectly smooth domed ceiling.   As the colors of the dome faded slowly from purple to blue to green back to purple, I squinted, looking for imperfections in the dome.  I could not find a single dynamite hole or chisel mark.  I was amazed.

The salt dome lit up in purple.

The salt dome lit up in blue.

Crossing the domed chamber, we entered a large tunnel.  That’s when I saw the huge neon 4.20 meter cross for this first time, mysteriously suspended in air.

Beautiful suspended 4.2 meter cross.

The tunnel led us to a beautiful cylindrical balcony that over looks the main altar.  Over the altar loomed the magnificent cross.  A marble statue of an angel blowing a horn was our herald.

View from the balcony over looking the main altar.

There are 3 enormous staircases that bring visitors and churchgoers down to the main level.  But choosing which staircases to go down is no arbitrary decision. There is staircase number 1: Sin Pecado (Without Sin), staircase number 2: Con poco de Pecado (With little Sin) or staircase number 3: Con much Pecado (With much Sin).

Ben and I scurried down staircase number 3, it just seemed like the right fit. Everyone else in our group went down the other 2 staircases.   I guess it wasn’t the right time to get honest.  People started looking at us like we were serial killers.

The main level has three impressive naves. The first representing Jesus’ birth and baptism, the second represents his life and death, and the third his resurrection.

The first nave has a splendid marble nativity scene.  Lights pulsate through a variety of colors on the halite wall behind the scene.

Fast Tube by Casper

Close up of the Virgin Mary statue.

The next nave was the biggest and most impressive.  Representing Jesus’ life and death and were the main altar stood.

The cross now hanging above me looked different from the neon cross I saw from the dome and balcony.  In the middle of the cross was a pulsating red light representing Jesus’ “eternal heartbeat of life and love.”  The cross no longer looked suspended but carved into the salt walls, the grand illusion solved.

Fast Tube by Casper

The sounds of the miners hard at work were loud.  The thunderous booms and the flickering of fluorescent lights give me more of an ominous End of Days feeling then a joyful one.  That’s when our guide told us that the chapel is ultimately doomed.  Explaining that over time the salt walls will natural move back toward each other, closing the chamber up.  The Colombians feel this is a fitting demise, since nothing in this world lasts forever.

Me in front of the main altar. The replica of The Creation of Adam is in the color of hope, green.

Also found in this nave is a replica of The Creation of Adam.  The light surrounding this beautiful sculpture changes from blue to red to green: blue meaning faith, green meaning hope and red meaning love.

Replica of The Creation of Adam in blue, the color for faith.

The replica of The Creation of Adam is in the color of love, red.

The most puzzling of the naves is the third and final one.  It is suppose to represent Christ’s resurrection but there is just a huge stage with flashing lights all around it.  It kinda had a weird alien space ship feel, that seemed more scientology then catholic.

The nave of Jesus' resurrection.

On our way to the bathrooms we found an artist at work, hand crafting a scene into the halite next to an incredible tree with an owl in it.

Ben and I in front of a tree carved out of salt.

Salt miner chiseling away.

We also checked out the Water Mirror and the Salt Miners Memorial also located in the Salt mining tunnels.

Water Mirror

Each hard helmets represents a life lost to these tunnels.

After it was all said and done. Ben and I were astounded at the marvelous and incredible things hard working people do in the name of their faith.    It was a trip that will not be forgotten.


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