The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

Zipaquirá, Colombia, October 13, 2012

Pete and Gayle, Robb and Jen, and Tony and Jane hired the hotel driver for the day and set off from Bogotá to visit a famous tourist attraction, the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, about an hour’s drive away.

It was nice to get out of the city and into the countryside. We saw a good many flower-growing operations en route. (For better or worse, most of the cut flowers that Americans buy are grown in Colombia and Ecuador.)

For this outing, we did two things particularly right: We (a) got there in good time and (b) got a tour in English. When we left the cathedral around noon, it was crowded. There were interesting things to learn about the cathedral that we would have missed with a Spanish tour.

Here we are, waiting for the tour in English.

The tour was in two parts: the religious part and the commercial part.

The Religious Part

The cathedral, hewn from an obsolete salt mine, was inaugurated in 1995. It is much larger and deeper than the previous (1954) cathedral — which was closed for safety reasons in 1990.

The new cathedral is huge and quite stunning. (Capacity of 8,000 people, and it gets filled to capacity at Easter time.) The stations of the cross are designed by modern architects. Each alcove/station is beautiful and abstract.

One of the stations of the cross. This one looks out over a mined tunnel.

The cathedral has three naves and a “balcony” that looks out over the central nave.

This is the view of central nave from the balcony.

In the nave that is used for weddings and baptisms, the architects did a very clever thing. They used water to precipitate the salt out of the halite rock to create a pretty white cascade.

Artistically precipitated salt at the front of one nave.

The Commercial Part

After the tour of the cathedral, we were led to the “tourist attraction” part of the salt park. Here was the shopping mall, the snack bars, the movie theatre, the sound-and-light show, the restrooms, and coming soon… a re-creation of an Andean village. Okay; the Andean village does sound a bit weird but they were sure hard at work on it when we walked by.

The underground shopping mall.

But all-in-all, everything was done quite tastefully. The goods for sale were generally attractive and of good quality and many locally produced. Plus, I enjoyed my Colombian latte at the 180-m-Below Café.

There is much development going on in the commercial section. I was much taken by this sculpture in progress.

An attractive mural in progress.

It was rather a surprise to come out of the mine at midday into the bright light and buss-fuls of Colombian tourists queuing to go in.

Jane standing next to one of the old dump trucks that was used in the salt mining operation.

Post-tour snack

Like every good SPAF outing, this one involved a tasty meal. After the mine, our driver drove us to a lunch place in the quaint town of Zipaquirá. He chose one of the many meat restaurants. We ordered lunch for seven (our driver joined us) and got two great platters of meat (beef, lamb, pork, sausage, and blood sausage) and fried starches (potatoes, plantains, and yucca) and salad. We took the leftovers back to the flat in Bogotá and all got another couple of meals from them.

Meat grilling outside advertizes the restaurant. No need to post a menu in the window. 😉

Close up of the meat:

Yummy.

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