Our next stop was another silver mining city – Potosi. The road from Uyuni to Potosi was an excellent bitumen road that wound its way up, down and around the mountains and valleys, making it a beautiful drive.
Different to Pulacayo, Potosi’s time was over 500 years ago when Spain ruled the region and the silver from Cerro Rico (the 4,800 metre mountain on the edge of the city pictured above) funded the Spanish Empire. The mine is still in operation and miners eek out a living extracting tin. Many tourists who visit Potosi tour the mine where conditions haven’t changed for 400 years – although the hand tools are a little more modern. The risk of touring inside a 400 year old mine is not to be understated.
The old mint, where Spanish coins were first struck in the mid 1500’s is now a museum and has wonderful displays of coins, machinery from the era and silver artifacts produced there through time. Sadly Bolivia no longer has its own mint.
The original buildings from the early days of Potosi, many of them churches, make the old town an interesting place to wander and admire the exciting history that the city has to offer. At over 4,000 metres, Potosi is one of the world’s highest cities. You wander slowly and stop often!
In Potosi, there are many churches. We spent an afternoon on a tour of the Santa Theresa Convent of the Carmelite order of nuns.
The convent founded in 1685 is now a museum and the excellent tour explained how the second daughter of wealthy families entered the very austere convent at the age of 15 with the provision of a dowry of 2,000 gold coins.
Whilst the nuns lived a frugal austere life, never seeing their family again and with just 2 hours of speaking per day, the Morano glass and valuable gilt framed paintings that adorned the buildings were evidence of the dowry payments.