Zipaquirá

A further 13 km beyond is Zipaquirá (commonly called Zipa), centre of a rich cattle- farming district, and famous for its rock salt mine (which has been exploited for centuries) and fabulous salt cathedral. This should not be missed. The sight of this remarkable architectural and artistic achievement is enough to leave even the most cynical atheist genuflecting in awed appreciation. Salt has been mined here since the 15th century, long before the Spaniards came and established the town in 1606. Many kilometres of tunnels have been excavated since then. There was a shrine in the cave carved by the miners into the salt many years before the original cathedral started to take shape in 1950. It was dedicated in 1954 to Nuestra Señora del Rosario (patron saint of miners). Continuing deterioration made the cave unsafe and it was closed in 1990. A new salt cathedral was begun in 1991 and opened on 16 December 1995 by President Samper. It is 500 m from, and 58 m below, the old cathedral. There is a short section before the 14 stations of the cross. Each station has been sculptured by a different artist; at their centre is a cross 4 m high, subtly lit and imaginatively executed. This is followed by sections representing the choir, narthex, baptistry (with a natural water source) and sacristy. Finally, at the lowest point in the cave, 180 m below the surface, are the nave and the north and south aisles with huge pillars growing out of the salt and dominated by the central cross, 16 m high. All is discreetly illuminated and gives a modern and austere impression.

The church in the attractive central plaza is also worth a visit for its stonework (despite its external appearance, it has a modern interior). The market on Tuesday is good for fruit and vegetables.

Nemocón

Around 15 km northeast of Zipaquirá, at Nemocón, there are salt mines and a church, but the mines are now not operating and closed to visitors. However, there is a small but interesting
Museo de Sal
 on the plaza, which includes local history and the beginnings of the salt industry in the time of the Muisca people. The main salt mine is four blocks above the museum, with some bizarre lampposts on the approach road.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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