Potosi city tour - the National Mint and the silver mine

August 17th 2003

Potosi is an interesting colonial city located in Bolivia at 4050 meters of elevation and hosts a population of about 100,000 inhabitants. Potosi has a nice museum dedicated to National Mint of Bolivia (Casa della Moneda) where there are coins, machines used to print them and ancient safes. A tour to silver mine, where miners work in terrible conditions, is also included in the city tour of Potosi.

Potosi, Bolivia
Potosì is a beautiful city at 4050 metres of elevation, with a population of about 100,000 people. Because of its interesting history and the nice colonial style, it has been declared by UNESCO as a World's Heritage and Cultural site.

 

Potosi, Bolivia Potosi, Bolivia
The day starts with a visit in the city's main museum "Casa della Moneda" (National Mint of Bolivia) where machines for printing coins and other interesting objects, are still well preserved.

 

Art gallery, Potosi, Bolivia
Inside the National Mint of Bolivia in Potosi, there is also a nice art gallery, showing paintings from several authors.

 

The most important painting is the Virgin of the Mountain,as it represents the history and the economy of the city. The big mountain behind Potosì is very important because it is full of silver and many other minerals. Mines was and are the main resource of the city, but I will talk about this later.

 

Pictures of National Mint of Bolivia. Because of the silver miners, at the colonial time Potosì was the main centre where coins were printed and shipped to Europe. Stored in this room, there are dozens of different casts used to print coins in several shapes, sizes and drawings on the faces.

 

These machines was used to make a raw metallic plate thin like a coin. Severeal passes in different machines, up to 12, was required in order to get the proper thickness before going ahead, in another room, to actually cut and print the coin.To move these heavy wheels and mechanisms, four mules were used in the lower floor, as visible on the pictures.

 

On the left pictures, tools and instrumentsused to cut and print the coins (it was just a manual work) and, ton the right, the safe used to ship the coins to Europe. It is dynamite-proof and its locking mechanism is so complicated that anybody would be able to open it, as the key must be moved left-right, up and down, in a precise sequence.

 

When the steam-driven machines arrived, they replaced the older systems actuated by mules.

 

Potosi, Bolivia Silver mine, Potosi, Bolivia
The day continues with an excursion inside the cooperative mineswhere silver and many additional minerals are extracted. The miners are very important for Potosì's economy, as well as they was for its history. They are located on a big mountain which is clearly visible from most parts of the city, at 4350 metres of elevation (upper-left picture). Dressed like miners, with headlamp also, we go near the miner's entrance (upper-right picture) from where a nice view of all Potosì is visible (bottom pictures).

 

Silver mine, Potosi, Bolivia Coca leaves and cigarettes
On the left: the entrance to the mine. On the top: coca leaves, cigarettes and dynamite are offered by tourists to the miners, because very important for their work.

 

Silver mine, Potosi, Bolivia
Picture of silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia. We enter in the claustrophobic tunnels of the mine and after a short walk we see the a miner at work. He is making an hole, of course by manual labour, in order to place some dynamite and make an explosion. The time required to make an hole like this is about 3 hours on average.

 

Silver mine, Potosi, Bolivia Silver mine, Potosi, Bolivia Silver mine, Potosi, Bolivia
More photos of Potosi silver mine. In the narrow passages of the mine it is often impossible to stand on foot.

 

Silver mine, Potosi, Bolivia
Photo of a miner in Bolivia. A miner fills his mouth of coca leaves and catalyst, in order to not feel pain and fatigue. The salary of the miners is around the equivalent of US$150 and their final income depends only on how many minerals they extract, not on how many hours they work. It is not uncommon for them to work for all day (24 hours on 24). Accidents and deaths are frequent and many of them don't live for more then 10-15 years in a condition like this.

 

On the left: a God to which miners make donations to prevent him to get angry. Above: a vein of mineral.

 

Potosi, Bolivia Potosi, Bolivia
Pictures of Potosi. A bit sad for what I saw in the mines, I take a short city tour of Potosì. This is the central square, with gardens and nice buildings all around.

 

Potosi,Bolivia Potosi, Bolivia
More photos of Potosi. The desolated streets of the suburbs (left picture) contrast with the nice buildings and the many churches in the center of the city.

 

° ° °

° ° °

° ° °