Sign in or Create your own Travel blog
Select Location: 

View Entire Trip

Share |
    

Tuesday 2 Feb 2010
Bogota, Colombia

Catedral de Sal

Took a rather squishy bus up to the Portal del Norte station, before transferring onto a buseta to the small town of Zipaquira north of Bogota. My destination was to be the "famous" Catedral de Sal (well I'd only heard about it a few nights earlier and thought it sounded cool: a huge underground network of chapels carved out of salt, plus the largest subterranean cross in the world)

The trip was fast, safe and fairly comfortable. Bogota's transport system seems to be very efficient (you're never left waiting for more than 5 minutes for the next bus), and I suppose with a population TWICE that of Ireland (at 7 million) in this city alone, it would have to be. Cheap too.. the whole 1.5 hour trip up north cost only about 2 euro in total. Not the safest drivers in the world though Wink

Catedral de Sal
Catedral de Sal

Catedral de Sal
Catedral de Sal

Zipaquira itself was a quiet slightly dusty town, but it had a real "calm" feeling compared to manic Bogota, with plenty of friendly laid back people around. The population seemed to be of mostly indiginous Indian descent. It has a lovely colonial-styled central square, and a nice park around the base of the mountain housing the mines. I would consider coming back to stay in Zipaquira if I had to pass through Bogota again.

The entrance to the salt cathedral was a fair hike. I was getting breathless fairly quickly, and was surprised at how unfit I felt (it only later dawned on me that I was walking a rapid pace at around 3,000m above sea level.. no wonder!).

A bit of history: The huge mountain of Zipaquira has long been mined for salt by the indigenous Indians, who regarded salt with a religious reverence. Predictably once the Spanish arrived the Indians were enslaved and forced to work the mines at a much more rigorous pace, resulting in the death of many workers. The Spanish also brought along Christianity, so, once converted, the workers needed somewhere to pray so that God would help them survive another day. Hence the first chapels were carved at various points in the tunnel system.

I opted to go into the Cathedral without a guide, and this seemed to be a good choice as the groups seemed to have around 10 people in them, and so on my own I could get some great shots when the crowds had dispersed.

Catedral de Sal
Catedral de Sal

Catedral de Sal
Catedral de Sal

The place was amazing. Very well placed coloured lighting showed off the HUGE caverns of salt that had been carved over the centuries. I can't overemphasise the sheer size of the caverns. Each one was about the size of a concert hall. The mine is STILL in active use, except for the chapel sections, so you can distantly hear workers drilling away. Throughout the walk in the mine, hidden speakers resonate with chanting monks. It's a very surreal and enchanting experience.

The network of chapels are each designed completely differently, and each one reflects one of the stations of the cross. The chapels and pews are all directly carved into the salt, and then polished off so that it looks like marble. Yet the salt crystals sparkle and make each room glow. Sunday service is still performed here, and I'd say that it would be great to see the chapels in active use.

Yes it really is carved...
Yes it really is carved...

Once you go lower into the mine, to the end of the circuit, you enter a huge vault which is the main chapel. Carved here is the largest subterranean cross, standing some 50 metres high, about the size of the pope's cross in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Running along the pews are huge Romanesque columns semi-carved out of the rock.

At this stage I was pretty exhausted from taking about 200 photos (!) so I went to see the quirky "3D" film that featured a robot called Nacho describing the origin of the salt mines with English subtitles (and also made sure to keep reminding the viewer that this was Colombia's No 1 attraction!!). Basically, the sea once covered the Andes mountains, and eventually it evaporated leaving vast salt flats like Uyuni in Bolivia. Once earthquakes and volcanoes had their way creating the Andes mountains, some of the salt flats were compressed and pushed underground forming mountains like this one.

Before leaving I visited a stall that was selling a range of Emeralds. I didn't intend on buying any of em, but somehow I got talked into buying two small ones that were going for US$ 10 each! Normally these are priced at $30 here, and probably valued at around $150 in Ireland, so I couldn't resist. I likes me bargains Laughing

On the way back into Bogota, I heard a shooting take place in the street, but unfortunately didn't see anything bar a few police cars screeching around! Doh!

1 Comment for this Travel blog entry

Zahra Esmail Says:

22 February 2013

I visited the Catedral de Sal. After my visit, I noticed something strange about one of my photos: there were two blue arms behind my mom and me, not connected to a body! Did you experience anything bizarre like that during your visit?

Best wishes,

peterforan Replies:

23 February 2013

Eh no, but I'd love to see the photo :) Got it hosted anywhere?

South America Twenty Ten

Travel blog by peterforan

Moiagasm!

Moiagasm!


After previously dipping my toes in Latin America via trips to Cuba and Central America, it's time to go for the big splash! 3 1/2 months to take in as much as I can, armed with little more than my camera, laptop and a few dodgy Spanish phrases.

visitors: 523,117

Currently in:

Dublin, Ireland

Buy this Blog on CD!  More...


Makes a great gift for anytime!

Photo Album

  • Heavy...

    Bogota

    Colombia

    Heavy security on Bogota's streets
  • Catedral de...

    Bogota

    Colombia

    Catedral de Sal
  • Catedral de...

    Bogota

    Colombia

    Catedral de Sal
  • Catedral de...

    Bogota

    Colombia

    Catedral de Sal