Potosí, formerly known as Villa Imperial de Potosí during the colonial period, is the capital city and municipality of Bolivia’s Potosí Department. At a notional elevation of 4,090 metres, it is one of the world’s highest cities (13,420 ft). It was for centuries the site of the Spanish colonial silver mint. A significant portion of the city’s colonial architecture has been maintained in the city’s historic center, which, along with the globally significant Cerro Rico de Potosí, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Potosí is located at the foot of the Cerro de Potosí —occasionally referred to as the Cerro Rico (“rich mountain”) — a mountain that dominates the city and is often believed to be “made of” silver mine. Potosí’ historical significance stems from the Cerro Rico, which was the Spanish Empire’s primary source of silver until Guanajuato in Mexico overtook it in the 18th century.
The silver was transported to the Pacific coast via llama and mule train, then transported north to Panama City via mule train across the isthmus of Panama to Nombre de Dios or Portobelo, from where it was sent to Spain via Spanish treasure fleets. Some of the silver also made its way east, along the Rio de la Plata, to Buenos Aires.
The summit of Cerro de Potosí is 4,824 metres (15,827 ft) above sea level.
Potosi, the largest and more wealthier city of America
Cerro Rico de Potosí, located in Bolivia’s Tin Belt, is the world’s largest silver deposit and has been mined continuously since the sixteenth century, yielding up to 60,000 tonnes of silver in 1996. According to estimates, there is still a significant amount of silver remaining in the mines. Potosí grew to be the second largest city in the Americas and the home of the continent’s first mint. By 1891, falling silver prices necessitated a shift to tin mining, which lasted until 1985. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when production was at its pinnacle, the ore contained up to 40% silver.
Ore deposits are found within veins in the dacite volcanic dome. The hill is “honeycombed” with subsurface workings that extend from the summit to 1,150 metres below ground (3,770 ft). The conical hill is capped by a reddish-brown gossan of iron oxides and quartz, and is surrounded by grayish-blue altered dacite and several mine dumps.
The basement rocks are composed of Ordovician clastic deposits composed primarily of phyllite with some interbedded sandstone. The dome was extruded at approximately 13.8 Ma. The Venus breccia originated during the explosive process when ascending dacite magma reacted with groundwater, resulting in a phreatic eruption. The relaxation of pressure allowed the Caracoles tuff ring to form on top of the breccia. The magma then erupted from a dike, forming a volcanic dome atop the tuff. At the surface, the dacite dome is 1,700 metres (5,600 ft) by 1,200 metres (3,900 ft), but narrows to a 100 metres (330 ft) broad dike at depth. Following that, hydrothermal circulation and fracture altered the dacite and deposited ore minerals and gangue in the veins.
What is Potosi famous for?
Potosí’s man-eating mines.
Bolivia’s Altiplano, at over 4000 meters above sea level, is home to South America’s highest town. Potosí is a mining town best known for the immense riches extracted from the Cerro Rico Mountain since 1545, when Spaniards began large-scale excavation. Potosí’s silver quickly became the foundation of the Spanish Empire, and at its height in the seventeenth century, it was one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the world.
Poto’s wealth was transferred to Europe and other Spanish colonies for ages. Bolivia gained independence in 1825 with its silver mines practically depleted and the population of Potosí reduced from 200,000 to 10,000. To compound things, the decline in silver prices harmed Potosí’ economy to the point where it could never fully recover. Today, Potosí’ fabled wealth is reflected solely in the word “un Potosí,” which refers to someone who is impossibly wealthy.
On Bolivia’s Altiplano, life is tough. Paid work is scarce, and the majority of residents rely on subsistence agriculture or small herds of Llamas and Alpacas. Potosí is one of the few exceptions to the rule, with approximately 10% of its 120,000 residents employed in the mining industry or related fields. Today, the primary ore types extracted at Cerro Rico are tin, zinc, lead, and silver. However, the “rich hill” does not make its miners wealthy; the Spanish Conquistadores began exploiting their labor and it continues to this day. Only a small percentage of people discover enough metal to considerably enhance their standard of living; the vast majority never escape poverty.
When Bolivia’s government abandoned its money-losing state mines in the mid-1980s, they were left open to anyone willing to work them. The two dozen small-scale, frequently family-owned mining cooperatives that have taken control are rarely able to purchase the safer contemporary technology utilized in larger mining operations.
Men are crammed into cramped quarters and spend hours pounding a 20-inch hole in the rock with little more than a metal bar and a hammer. They then insert a stick of dynamite, blow out a piece of rock, and instruct their assistants – small lads, many of them still in their teens – to cart the debris out of the mine.
At 4000 meters, oxygen is sparse, and considerably more so in the mine’s narrow tunnels. Instead of battery-operated flashlights, miners utilize acetylene gas lamps. These antique lamps have the benefit of dying out when the oxygen in the air is depleted; miners are trained to exit the shaft promptly when their lamps go out to avoid suffocating.
Apart from the oxygen deficiency, each explosion pulverizes the rocks and fills the mines with dust. Numerous miners smoke strong unfiltered cigarettes, believing that they will load their lungs with tar (which they see as the lesser of two evils) until there is no room left for dust. Asthma, silicosis, and other respiratory issues are, unsurprisingly, the most prevalent health concerns. Miners frequently contract colds as a result of the rapid temperature fluctuations between the mine’s hot tunnels and the cool Altiplano air.
Miners essentially work themselves to death in these substandard health and working circumstances. Only a few individuals survive more than twenty years of underground labor; their life expectancy does not exceed forty.
Each miner purchases a little share in the mountain and collaborates with his assistants on one portion of the network of tunnels. He retains sole ownership of the material he removes, and his profit is proportional to output. Additionally, the mineworker must cover the costs of his equipment, which includes tools, acetylene lamps, dynamite, and the coca leaves that react with saliva and calcium carbonate to produce the strong, pain- and hunger-relieving stimulant required to master the mine’s sometimes 72-hour work shifts. Numerous tons of overburden must be removed in order to extract enough metal to earn a little profit.
Cooperatives provide extremely rudimentary health insurance and manage cash raised by “adventure” visitors who take mine tours and pay visits to the workers. A rising number of miners have already tapped into the lucrative tourism economy by acting as guides to the mine shafts they once worked in. Tourists are commended for bringing gifts such as cigarettes, coca leaves, and sticks of dynamite purchased at the miner’s market prior to entering the mines.
Approximately eight million Inca slaves died during colonial times as a result of the silver extraction process. Today, miners continue to perish in accidents or as a result of deteriorating health conditions. Potosí’ mansions and churches are gradually being restored to their former glory (as part of a UNESCO program), but in a city destined to become a major tourist destination, the majority of the Cerro Rico Mountain’s miners have been left out of the equation, abandoned in their shafts as if nothing had ever happened.