The City of Potosí was founded in 1546 as a silver mining town, which soon produced fabulous wealth, becoming one of the largest cities in the Americas and the world.

It is from Potosí that most of the silver shipped through the Spanish Main came. According to official records, 45,000 tons of pure silver were mined from Cerro Rico from 1556 to 1783. Of this total, 7,000 tons went to the Spanish monarchy.

After 1800 the silver mines became depleted, making tin the main product. This eventually led to a slow economic decline.

The site includes the colonial city center and the industrial heritage more close to the mountain, among which are dams, smelters and ore-grinding mills.


Visit May 2011

The approach to Potosí is magnificent - the road from Sucre already is a fine drive of 2.5 hours mostly on the Altiplano, but the first sight of the Cerro Rico (where all Potosi's riches came from) is truly exciting. There have been reports over the last few years that it is in danger of collapsing totally because of over-mining, but it still seemed to be a very sturdy mountain to me. It completely dominates the compact city beneath it.

As in Sucre, opening hours to the sights of Potosi are fairly limited and unreliable. I had left Sucre early to be able to visit at least its main attraction - La Casa de la Moneda. This former Mint is now set up as a museum, displaying both parts of its former use and miscellaneous exhibitions on art, archeology and geology. One of its prize pieces is the 18th century La Virgen del Cerro, a work of the Potosi school depicting the whole (partly mythical) story of the Cerro Rico.

I had decided against visiting the interior of one of the mines early on - too claustrophobic for me. So I just wandered about in the fine colonial city center, sat on its main square, visited the bright Santa Teresa Monastery and even meandered into the outskirts of the city to have a look at one of the former smelters, the Ingenio San Marcos.

Knowing the city's history, it's an impressive place to visit. Though as with all other sites in Bolivia that I have visited so far, it lacks the really outstanding surprises that turn a WHS-visit from "good" into "great".

Community Reviews


As a Bolivian I am so proud that Potosi has been declared a World Heritage site. At the height of its splendor it is said to have rivaled London, Paris and Madrid in it's population size. It is also written that for some religious procesion the streets where paved with silver ingots that just poured out of "Cerro Rico" and which later where exported to Spain.

Many of us have forgotten or do not know about the past glory this little city high in the Andes has brought our country. It is truly a world heritage site. It would be wonderful to be able to access more infomation on it, to be able to see the art and read more of the stories about the ostentation the families of the miners lived. Almost like the bubble lived here in the US by the IPO generation :)

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Site Info

Full name: City of Potosí

Site History

  • 2014 - In Danger

    uncontrolled mining operations, instability and risk of collapse of the Cerro Rico
  • 1987 - Inscribed

    Reasons for inscription


The site has 1 locations.

  • Potosi


The site has 18 connections.


  • Aqueduct "industrial monuments of the Cerro Rico, where water is provided by an intricate system of aqueducts and artificial lakes"



  • Slavery "To compensate for the diminishing indigenous labor force, the colonists made a request in 1608 to the Crown in Madrid to begin allowing for the importation of 1500 to 2000 African slaves per year. An estimated total of 30,000 African slaves were taken to Potos? throughout the colonial era. African slaves were also forced to work in the Casa de la Moneda as ac?milas humanas (human mules). Since mules would die after couple of months pushing the mills, the colonists replaced the four mules with twenty African slaves."

Human Activity

  • Cuzco School of Painting Works by Tito, Bitti and others
  • Mints La Moneda, a mint established in 1672 to coin the silver. The WHS is also explicitly linked to the economic change brought in the 16th century by the flood of Spanish currency resulting from the massive import of precious metals.
  • Mummies Several young children, displayed in La Moneda
  • Silver production 

Individual People

Religion and Belief

  • Cathedrals Cath Bas de Nstra Senora de la Paz
  • Mercedarians Iglesia Na Sa de la Merced "The Order of Mercy was expanding very rapidly and during the sixteenth century, it established convents in .. Potosí (1549) .."


  • Built in the 16th century It owes its prosperity to the discovery, between 1542 and 1545, of the New World's biggest silver lodes


  • Built or owned by Spanish Potosí became an 'Imperial City' following the visit of Francisco de Toledo in 1572. It and its region prospered enormously following the discovery of the New World's biggest silver lodes in the Cerro de Potosí south of the city. The major colonial-era supplier of silver for Spain, Potosí was directly and tangibly associated with the massive import of precious metals to Seville (AB ev)
  • First inscriptions Bolivia 1987
  • History of the World in 100 objects No 80. Pieces of Eight 1589-98 AD

WHS on Other Lists

  • Memory of the World Documentary Fonds of Royal Audiencia Court of La Plata (2011) contains the history of silver mining in Potosí

World Heritage Process