The City of Potosí was founded in 1546 as a silver mining town, which soon produced fabulous wealth, becoming one of the largest cities in the Americas and the world.
It is from Potosí that most of the silver shipped through the Spanish Main came. According to official records, 45,000 tons of pure silver were mined from Cerro Rico from 1556 to 1783. Of this total, 7,000 tons went to the Spanish monarchy.
After 1800 the silver mines became depleted, making tin the main product. This eventually led to a slow economic decline.
The site includes the colonial city center and the industrial heritage more close to the mountain, among which are dams, smelters and ore-grinding mills.
Visit May 2011
The approach to Potosí is magnificent – the road from Sucre already is a fine drive of 2.5 hours mostly on the Altiplano, but the first sight of the Cerro Rico (where all Potosi’s riches came from) is truly exciting. There have been reports over the last few years that it is in danger of collapsing totally because of over-mining, but it still seemed to be a very sturdy mountain to me. It completely dominates the compact city beneath it.
As in Sucre, opening hours to the sights of Potosi are fairly limited and unreliable. I had left Sucre early to be able to visit at least its main attraction – La Casa de la Moneda. This former Mint is now set up as a museum, displaying both parts of its former use and miscellaneous exhibitions on art, archeology and geology. One of its prize pieces is the 18th century La Virgen del Cerro, a work of the Potosi school depicting the whole (partly mythical) story of the Cerro Rico.
I had decided against visiting the interior of one of the mines early on - too claustrophobic for me. So I just wandered about in the fine colonial city center, sat on its main square, visited the bright Santa Teresa Monastery and even meandered into the outskirts of the city to have a look at one of the former smelters, the Ingenio San Marcos.
Knowing the city's history, it's an impressive place to visit. Though as with all other sites in Bolivia that I have visited so far, it lacks the really outstanding surprises that turn a WHS-visit from "good" into "great".
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
As a Bolivian I am so proud that Potosi has been declared a World Heritage site. At the height of its splendor it is said to have rivaled London, Paris and Madrid in it's population size. It is also written that for some religious procesion the streets where paved with silver ingots that just poured out of "Cerro Rico" and which later where exported to Spain.
Many of us have forgotten or do not know about the past glory this little city high in the Andes has brought our country. It is truly a world heritage site. It would be wonderful to be able to access more infomation on it, to be able to see the art and read more of the stories about the ostentation the families of the miners lived. Almost like the bubble lived here in the US by the IPO generation :)
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