Catedral de Sal, Zipaquirá: Salvation tastes salty?

One rainy evening, Pedro Medina gave me some good advice:

“Whenever you comment on anything paradoxical, controversial or even remotely problematic Danny… hay que hacer sandwich”.

Simply put, the idea is to “sandwich” your criticism between two healthy slices of praise; to give the bad with the good. Today, I want to “hacer sandwich” with my comments on the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá…


Just over an hour from Bogotá lies the city of Zipaquirá – Colombia’s “Salt City”. One of the country’s oldest settlements and home of the world’s largest underground Cathedral. 1500m below ground… a subterranean complex that fits 7,000 people.


This Cathedral is simply massive. So big in fact, that the Vatican itself had to intervene to ensure it didn’t get any bigger, because “no church can be bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome” … imagine!

Inaugurated in 1995, this magnificent Salt Cathedral is an architectural marvel which boasts the following:

A nave with a 16m salt cross…


The 14 stations of the cross sculpted with salt…

A salt dome…


A salt shopping centre full of salt souvenirs…


A salt 3D cinema screen…


A light show made of salt…


It’s all there in Zipaquirá. Think salt-version of the Ice Hotel and you only just start scratching the surface of the sheer magnitude we’re talking about here. Everything sculpted from salt. No steel, no cement. Only salt – a mineral with super-sensitivity to heat and moisture. You cannot help but marvel at the meticulous craftsmanship that build this place.

And that’s where I “sandwich” my issue…

You see, to build an underground Cathedral you first need a hole. With no hole, there’s no space to build a Cathedral…

And I can say with full certainty that it wasn’t Sr. Roswell Garavito Pearl and his team of architects and engineers who built this hole.

The Muiscas and the miners… condemned to the shadows?

The real builders were the Muisca people who started carving that hole right back from the 5th Century BC. The real builders were the generations upon generations of indigenous miners who were made to work the mines of Zipaquirá throughout Colombia’s colonial period, right up to the mid-20th  Century.

Just consider the human power required to create such a space… human arms, basic tools, candlelight and the sheer determination to keep mining.

I have to say, I find it quite ironic that this entire chapter of history has been shamelessly glossed over and redefined in overtly religious terms. The Catholic Church ruthlessly imposing upon pre-Columbian history and culture… where have we heard that one before?


In Zipaquirá, the Virgin Rosario Guasa (patron saint of miners) steals the show, and the miners themselves are left in their shadow…

For the record, this is all the Muiscas get in terms of commemoration:

Is that actually it?!

I mean, come on – if you’re going to stand on the shoulders of giants at least acknowledge them!

Just think about all that forgotten accomplishment… and in a country which, to this day, still uses the term “indio” as an insult! Inexcusable. I’ve even heard people in Bogotá refer to cheap mobile phones as “móvil flecha” (or bow-and-arrow mobile)

Why? Because any “indio” can get one.

What we’re talking about here is a country which has never learnt to recognise the value of its 102 indigenous groups, and which continues to denigrate them on a daily basis.

From salt mining to “selfies” the past being forgotten?

So what an opportunity for the Salt Cathedral to put things right! Let’s have less crucifixes and UV light shows and more information on the Muiscas and the miners, please.

Only once we reach this stage… can we get a true reflection.

Crucifixes and UV lights… a true reflection?



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