Silver Mines of Potosí, Potosi
"Cerro Rico de Potosi" (Rich Mountain - Silver mine of Potosi)
One of the main tourist attractions of the city that was once known as the wealthiest and most populated city in the world is "Sumaj Orko", better known as "Cerro Rico". From the depths of this amazing mountain, a huge amount of silver has been extracted since 1545. The mine can be accessed through an elevator that takes visitors directly to various galleries where lead-silver, zinc-silver and tin are extracted. Most of these galleries are at about 240 meters below the ground.
"Sumaj Orcko", the vital center and main source of subsistence of Potosi. Located at 700 m south from the center of the city, the summit of the "Cerro Rico" (Rich Mountain) has a total height of 4,824 meters above the sea level. It is embedded in the middle of the Frailes Mountain Range.
The interior of the mine, called Pailaviri, is open to the public. It has been divided into several levels and it could be accessed through an elevator, which descends 240 meters below ground.
At 70 meters from the entrance, there is the "Tio" (Uncle), a mystic representation of the "Lord of the Mine", a legendary image, which is given homage, so that, in accordance to popular beliefs, minerals could be taken safely from the mine without disturbing him.
The mountain itself has been continuously mined for 455 years. There are approximately 300 mine entrances, which are managed by private corporations and mining associations.
A visit to Potosi isn't complete without a visit to one of the cooperative mines. Taking a tour of one of the cooperative mines is still a good way to get a sense of the social price paid for the mineral wealth of the few. It is a shocking experience as the methods of working haven't changed much since the colonial times. Still, many people don't have another choice and around 10,000 people work in the mines.
A tour starts with a visit to the miners' market to buy gifts for the miners like coca leaves, cigarettes or dynamite. A typical visit will have you walking and crawling through the mine for about 2-3 hours.
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