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Potosi

Colonial silver town at almost 4000m of altitude

Beneath the towering multi-coloured peak of the Cerro Rico, lies the city of Potosi. The capital of the department of Potosi, the highest city in the world and a UNESCO 'World Cultural Heritage Site', Potosi is an uniquely interesting city, with a brutal but captivating history.

The mountain on which Potosi is built provided the silver which funded the Spanish Empire from 1545 until the beginning of the 20th Century. The name of the mountain, 'Cerro Rico', literally translates as 'rich mountain' whilst the 'it's a Potosi!' is still Spanish slang for anything incredibly valuable.

Walking through the streets of Potosi is like strolling through a museum of colonial history. The city is proud of its 'World Cultural Heritage Site' status, which ensures the protection and upkeep of its countless historic buildings. Amongst those that are especially astounding are the government buildings, which form two sides of the Plaza 10 de Noviembre, and the Casa de Moneda, the old royal mint and now a comprehensive museum of Potosi's history.

Although famous for its Silver, the city has a much darker history. The mines saw countless indigenous Bolivians worked to death by the Spanish colonists. Today the mines are still active, although more practical and less deocrative metals are sought in the rocks. The conditions in the tunnels were once likened to working in the 'mouth of hell' and have not improved a great deal since. Guided tours of the mines are a popular tourist attraction and provide a much welcomed surplus income for the miners. However, the shocking conditions and difficulty breathing in the tunnels leave many visitors more than a little shook up.

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