Overlooking the massive Plaza Bolivar, in the heart of downtown Manizales, is the Catedral Basílica de Manizales. It is a massive concrete structure that is both raw and refined at the same time.
In fact the architect who won the design contest in the 20s believed that the raw concrete was the soul of the building and was something to be celebrated instead of covered.
Due to the rough nature of the material, it is also possible to see the repair work from several major earthquakes. The most significant damage occurred in 1962 when one of the towers collapsed.
The cathedral entrance off of Calle 23 has a small elevator that leads up to an open-air cafe. Dainty colonnades surround the cluster of tables and the north side of the cafe overlooks Plaza Bolivar and the buttercup yellow Gobernación de Caldas building.
Aside from people watching, the plaza is also enjoyable for its sculptures and tile murals. This part of the city also has the oldest buildings, which make for an interesting architectural stroll.
There is also a tour that departs from outside the second level cafe and continues up into the highest tower. The tickets are sold on the ground level and initially I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to pay the $10,000 peso entry fee. However, the view from the top is really something else.
One of the most memorable parts though was the old wooden staircase that led up to the tower. This part of the cathedral is called el Corredor Polaco. Although only small portions of it were left for display, the reason it was replaced was quite evident.
For starters, the staircase had been extremely narrow and dark. It had actually been completely enclosed in wood and for this reason it resembled a large, upright coffin. If there were more than one person on the staircase, the structure creaked and trembled.
To make matters worse, the staircases were in segments (these are the tiny rectangular platforms above). This meant that one exited the staircase on the right hand side of the tower and then slid along the wall to the opposite staircase to continue the journey.
Of course there were no guard rails then to prevent someone from slipping off the landing and plummeting to their death. For safety reasons, this part of the church was actually closed to the public between 1976-2008.
Now that secure metal staircases are in place, it is a much more enjoyable walk up el Corredor Polaco. The only obstacle that remains in the way between you and a beautiful view of Manizales are 456 steps. Bring some water.
How to get to the Catedral Basílica de Manizales: Carrera 22- between Calle 22 & 23, Manizales