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Wed Mar 23, 2016, 06:44 AM

Story of cities #6: how silver turned Potosí into 'the first city of capitalism'

Story of cities #6: how silver turned Potosí into 'the first city of capitalism'

The discovery of a mountain of silver (and a new way to extract it) transformed this remote Incan hamlet into the economic centre of Spain’s empire – larger than London, Milan or Seville. But then the silver ran out …

Patrick Greenfield
Monday 21 March 2016 06.00 EDT

“For the powerful emperor, for the wise king, this lofty mountain of silver could conquer the world.” So read the engraving on an ornate shield sent by Spain’s King Felipe II in 1561 as a gift to the city of Potosí, in what is now southern Bolivia.

Felipe was all too aware of the vast riches hidden beneath this remote Andean settlement. The conquistadors may never have found El Dorado, but they did find a mound of silver so large it would turn an isolated Incan hamlet into the fourth largest city in the Christian world in just 70 years, fund the creation of the most advanced industrial complex of its era, and define economic fortunes from China to western Europe.

At its peak in the early 17th century, 160,000 native Peruvians, slaves from Africa and Spanish settlers lived in Potosí to work the mines around the city: a population larger than London, Milan or Seville at the time. In the rush to exploit the silver, the first Spanish colonisers occupied the locals’ homes, forgoing the typical colonial urban grid and constructing makeshift accommodation that evolved into a chaotic mismatch of extravagant villas and modest huts, punctuated by gambling houses, theatres, workshops and churches.

High in the dusty red mountains, the city was surrounded by 22 dams powering 140 mills that ground the silver ore before it was moulded into bars and sent to the first Spanish colonial mint in the Americas. The wealth attracted artists, academics, priests, prostitutes and traders, enticed by the Altiplano’s icy mysticism. “I am rich Potosí, treasure of the world, king of all mountains and envy of kings” read the city’s coat of arms, and the pieces of eight that flowed from it helped make Spain the global superpower of the period.


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Reply Story of cities #6: how silver turned Potosí into 'the first city of capitalism' (Original post)
Judi Lynn Mar 2016 OP
Judi Lynn Mar 2016 #1
Bacchus4.0 Mar 2016 #2
Judi Lynn Mar 2016 #3

Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Wed Mar 23, 2016, 06:50 AM

1. 'Bolivia's Cerro Rico mines killed my husband. Now they want my son'

'Bolivia's Cerro Rico mines killed my husband. Now they want my son'

Potosí's silver-lined 'mountain that eats men' is on the brink of collapse, threatening the lives and livelihoods of 15,000 miners

• Bolivia's child miners: 'The Cerro Rico is a demon' - video

Dan Collyns in Potosí
Tuesday 24 June 2014 08.27 EDT

It was the mountain that bankrolled Spain's colonial empire, the Spanish Armada and the European Renaissance. The Cerro Rico, or Rich Hill, produced an estimated 2bn ounces of silver, making Potosí, the Bolivian city beneath it, the world's largest industrial complex in the 16th century, according to the UN's cultural body, which named it a world heritage site in 1987. But last week, Unesco added Cerro Rico and Potosí to its list of endangered sites, owing to "uncontrolled mining operations" that risk "degrading the site".

In 2011, after nearly 500 years of constant extraction, the mountain's iconic summit was at risk of collapse. Engineers from the state mining company, Comibol, raced to save the 4,824-metre peak, filling a 50-metre-wide crater with ultra-light cement. There are plans to plug further gaps with mineral-stripped rocks, but, despite these measures, the summit continues to sink a few centimetres every year.

But Carlos Colque, Comibol's general manger in Potosí, says there remains a risk of collapse as long as miners continue to work above the 4,400-metre mark in the labyrinth of tunnels that honeycomb the mountain. The silver mine remains Potosí's economic mainstay. "We can't kick the miners out and leave them without work, the government wants to relocate them but they say they want guarantees," he says.

. . .

Some historians estimate that up to 8 million men have died in the Cerro Rico since the 16th century, when indigenous and African slaves were forced by the Spanish to live in the tunnels they mined. Since then, the landmark, known as the "mountain that eats men", has continued to live up to its fearsome reputation.


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Response to Judi Lynn (Reply #1)

Wed Mar 23, 2016, 11:00 AM

2. Wow, 8 million. Thats not accurate nt

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Response to Bacchus4.0 (Reply #2)

Wed Mar 23, 2016, 04:32 PM

3. Other sources: "8 million deaths in the last 500 years."

The Mountain

“There are places where no matter how high you lift your head you cannot see the top, and looking below you cannot see the bottom; on one side you see a horror, on another a fright, and everything you see in there is all confusion.”

—Bartolome Arzans de Orsua y Vela, History of the Imperial City of Potosí (1703)

. . .

It’s not surprising that the miners of Potosí seek divine protection, be it from Jesus on the outside of the mine, or El Tío underground; it is estimated that Cerro Rico and the other Bolivian mines have resulted in 8 million deaths in the last 500 years. So the offerings continue—and so do the casualties.


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Mined to Death: Why Bolivia's Cerro Rico Mountain Is Collapsing

By Jean Friedman-Rudovsky / Potosí Thursday, June 16, 2011

That faith, in a cynical sense, is good business for cooperative owners like Quiñones, since they feel little labor pressure to invest in tunnel improvements. The Potosí government, meanwhile, is looking for nearby mineral deposits to relocate mine workers. But even state Mining Secretary Arnulfo Gutíerrez admits that miners won't abandon the Cerro until its riches run out or the mountain falls. Miners like Morales, whose three-generation household has 11 mouths to feed, are working 16-hour shifts these days to take advantage of high mineral prices. Morales knows the rush aggravates the mountain's fragility; his high-activity mine is especially ripe for collapse. He also knows Cerro Rico is called "the mountain that eats men" for the millions of miners (many of them slaves) killed there over the centuries. "You know, there's another bridge that could be built from here to Spain," he concedes. "One made from the bones of miners who have died inside here."


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Mines of Cerro Rico, Potosi, Bolivia

Since colonial times, Potosi has been a world famous mining city. The mountain dominating over Potosi city is Cerro Rico, also called by the locals “the mountain which eats men”. During the 16th century its numerous and profitable mines made it the second largest city in the Americas after Mexico City, and primary sponsor to the Spanish Monarchy. It was estimated that from the 16th century more than 8 million miners died due to accidents or diseases caused by exposure to toxic substances.


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Naturally these miners, who came to be known as mitayos, didn’t last long. Heavy losses were also incurred among those who worked in the ingenios (smelting mills), as the silver-smelting process involved contact with deadly mercury. In all, it’s estimated that over the three centuries of colonial rule – 1545 to 1825 –­ as many as eight million Africans and indigenous Bolivians died from the appalling conditions.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/bolivia/the-southwest/potosi/history#ixzz43lAv0PNU

[font size=7][font color=red]ETC.[/font][/font]

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