Featured Writer: Danuta Stawarz
The city of Potosi was founded in 1545, during the “gold rush” associated with the discovery in Cerro de Potosí – later known as the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) – large silver deposits. In a few years the settlement has attracted hundreds of thousands of Europeans and it became the official mint of Spain. Conquiscadors used native slaves and slaves from Africa for work – housands of them perished in the local mines and smelters in inhumane conditions. In the seventeenth century Potosi was one of the largest and richest cities in the world, in the XVII century, however, silver was exhausted. Profits drew later with the acquisition of tin and other minerals, but even so the city began to decline economically. Despite losing its splendor, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and today is dependent mainly on tourism.
This is undoubtedly the architectural jewel of Bolivia – with many beautifully decorated churches, restored colonial houses, cobbled streets and stunning views of the Cerro Rico. One of the most famous buildings in Potosi is the ‘Casa de la Moneda’ – once the mint of Spain. Architecturally impressive building was built of stone and brick, as well as wood, which was imported from other regions of Bolivia. In the central courtyard the mask of ‘Bacchus’ is smilling at us, which covers the former insignia of Spain.
A museum houses numerous exhibits, of course, made of silver.
We can also see thousands of minerals extracted from Cerro Rico and the surrounding area, as well as mummies of the first European settlers. For me the sight of children ‘bodies, however was a little too much… The same impression I had looking at the Virgin Mary sculpture, with the ‘real’ hair and clothes, which long ago looked like a doll. Today, however, it could be a model for female ’Chucky’ 🙂
Another attraction of Potosi is the ‘Mirador’ – ‘space tower’ on a hill, offering panoramic views across the city and a wonderful view of the Cerro Rico. Climbing is not easy because Potosi is the highest city in the world and is sometimes hard to catch breath at 4.090 m 🙂 Bus ride on the city’s steepest streets also is an unforgettable experience 🙂
What else could you see? The churches of fancifully decorated facades and silver interiors (the Spaniards left something behind) – but I couldn’t admire the splendor though, because I had too little time …
Today, it is relatively easy to get to Potosi – from Oruro, Sucre, or even Oyuni (by train). Perhaps soon I will be able to visit also Uyuni (salt desert), and drop into the Potosi? We must then make sure to visit our friendly hostel ‘Koala’ and take a famous mine tour!
I have to mention the unexpected difficulties that can be encountred while travelling in Bolivia – roadblocks. Returning to Oruro we had just such a blockade (please, do not ask what was going on, because it does not matter, it’s quite normal here) and we already had a view of spending the night in a remote area on the bus when it became apparent that another bus of the same company was stuck on the other side! So, after a short ‘walk,’ we continued our journey, but we couldn’t go to Llallaqua as we planned and we came back straight to Cochabamba …