Potosí is a city, the capital of the department of Potosí in Bolivia. It is at an altitude of 3967 meters and has about 115,000 inhabitants. It is claimed to be the highest city in the world. It lies beneath the Cerro Rico (“Rich mountain”), a mountain of silver ore, which has always dominated the city. Potosí with Cerro Rico founded 1545 as a mining town, it soon acquired fabulous wealth.
Cerro Rico – Potosi – Bolivia
In Potosí miners use coca leaves for almost everything. To tolerate the adverse conditions, the miners constantly chew on coca leaves. The leaves dull the senses and help the miners to work with little oxygen or food. Most miners keep a wad of coca leaves in their mouths while working. Most also have chronically bloody gums, likely as a result. Coca (Erythroxylum coca), often spelled koka in Quechua and Aymara, is a plant in the family Erythroxylaceae, native to northwestern South America. Under the older Cronquist system of classifying flowering plants, this was placed in an order Linales; more modern systems place it in the order Malpighiales. The plant resembles a blackthorn bush, and grows to a height of 2-3 m. The branches are straight, and the leaves, which have a green tint, are thin, opaque, oval, more or less tapering at the extremities. A marked characteristic of the leaf is an areolated portion bounded by two longitudinal curved lines once on each side of the midrib, and more conspicuous on the under face of the leaf. The flowers are small, and disposed in little clusters on short stalks; the corolla is composed of five yellowish-white petals, the anthers are heart-shaped, and the pistil consists of three carpels united to form a three-chambered ovary. The flowers are mature into red berries. The leaves are sometimes eaten by the moth Eloria noyesi. When we were in Potosí our guide explained us everything about the importance of coca leaves. Have a look at the video made from this explanation about coca leaves.
Play the video of the Coca leaves explanation :
Four hundred years after Bolivia’s silver mines financed the Spanish Empire, director Charles Vaughan meets the miners who still risk their lives scraping a living from the mountain’s exhausted and toxic seams. Called Cerro Rico (rich mountain), this barren conical hill is 4824 metres above sea level and the world’s highest city, that of Potosi, sits at its base at 4090 metres altitude. It is estimated that 70,000 metric tons of silver were produced over a 400 year period. In fact it’s the site of what was the largest silver mine in the world during the 17th Century. Long ago the silver of Cerro Rico ceased to supply the wealth of the Spanish Empire. But it still yields some sort of living for the thousands of Bolivians who work there. Cerro Rico is one of the world’s finest examples of economic geology, as well as a testament to the harsh working conditions that Bolivians deal with on a daily basis. The guide gave us a complete explanation of dynamite, so watch the video to listen and see it with your own eyes.
Play the video of the dynamite explanation :
The Silver Mines
We were given the opportunity to tour the Cerro Rico mine through Baobab travel. This tour was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness first hand a working mine, whose operations consist mainly of manpower, for there are few machines doing the dirty work. The temperatures are extreme, the walls are muddy and slippery, and tunnel floors are flooded. The ceiling is just a few feet above the floor at many points, and the only way through is on your belly. Men and boys pull carts full of rocks, shovel rocks into sacks which are heaved up several levels for removal, all by hand. The miners constantly chew coca leaves, helping them stand the overwhelming heat and prevent them from being hungry. Typically, “tourist” activities are designed so anyone could tag along, but the Cerro Rico mine tour is definitely an exception. Upon first entry into the mine you feel a cool draft, but within 50 meters of the entrance the heat begins to rise, and within minutes you are sweating profusely. The mines has been mined for nearly 500 years. Indeed, so rich did Cerro Rico prove to be that the Spanish colonists dreamt of building a bridge of solid silver all the way from Potosí to Madrid. Far-fetched perhaps, but by the early 17th century it was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the world and, at a tremendous human cost, supplied the Spanish Crown with untold riches.To feel a bit of our experience watch the video made of the mines.
Play the video of the Silver Mines in Potosi – Bolivia :
Gallery of Potosí:
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