Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Potosi - A Bolivian City Which Sprang Around A Silver Mountain

Cerro Rico, literally meaning a rich mountain in Spanish is a mountain name in the Andes  mountain ranges in Bolivia in South America. The richness of the mountain attracted miners in the 16th century which eventually led to the development of a human settlement around the first identified mining area on the site while also becoming one of the highest human settlements on Earth located geographically at an elevation of over 4,000 metres. It became a major supply medium for silver for Spain during the establishment of the New World Spanish Empire and population exceeded 200,000 before Bolivia got its independence in 1825.  During those times, a Spanish phrase ‘vale un Potosi’ became one of the most used phrases of the settlement which means ‘to be of great value’ which later on became the identity of the settlement till date as Potosi which was once the world’s largest industrial complex in the 16th century. The population went down to as low as 10,000 after the nation's independence due to the exhaustion of the silver ores of the mountain which at once contained upto 40 % silver in the previous couple of centuries.

The extraction of silver ore was dependent on a series of hydraulic mills where water was provided by an intricate system of aqueducts and artificial lakes of whose remnants can still be found on the site. Price of silver dropped down towards the last phase of the 19th century due to the identification of more affordable minerals and their workability which shifted the focus of miners towards mining tin which had a more elaborated market than silver to sustain themselves. The example of Potosi provides a case where a settlement grew to become one of the planets largest in a very short span of 70-100 years due to the presence of rich natural resources on one hand and an instance when thousands of human lives were kept at stake to dig out various ores at such a high elevation where Oxygen content is low naturally and the miners were traditionally provided with acetylene gas lamps making it furthermore low and it is henceforth often termed to as ‘A Mountain That Eats Men’. 


  1. found you on reddit :) spooky photo of the woman's face above the fountain. Thought I'd share my experience trekking the nearby Colca Canyon of Peru as well. Cheers, will look through your blog

    1. Also found this on Reddit! Great article, I'm Bolivian btw.