Potosi, Bolivia

General Information

Regional secretariat


Administrative status

Chief city of the Department of Potosi

City of Potosí

Registration Year


Historical function

Perfect example of a major silvers mine of the modern era

Location and site

In the Andes mountain range and below the Cerro Rico which dominates it from the south, Potosi is situated at 4,000 m. above sea level.

Urban morphology

Potosi is composed of five reservoirs and their dams, a royal mine, about 5,000 other mines, and the city itself. From 1572 on, the urban plan developed according to the “Law of the Indies,” and its street grid, which surrounds a central square, is particularly regular.

The central square is bordered by Baroque and Metis facades. The Cathedral, like many other monuments, was reconstructed in the 18th century. The mint, also reconstructed in the 18th century, constituted the largest civic monument in South America. The Cathedral of Lorenzo, completed in 1548, is one of the oldest Metis architectural works in Potosi. The 14 provinces that surround the city are represented by 14 Indian quarters.

Registration criteria

Criterion (ii): The “Imperial City” of Potosí, such as it became following the visit of Francisco de Toledo in 1572, exerted lasting influence on the development of architecture and monumental arts in the central region of the Andes by spreading the forms of a baroque style incorporating Indian influences.

Criterion (iv): Potosí is the one example par excellence of a major silver mine in modern times. The industrial infrastructure comprised 22 lagunas or reservoirs, from which a forced flow of water produced the hydraulic power to activate the 140 ingenios or mills to grind silver ore. The ground ore was then amalgamated with mercury in refractory earthen kilns called huayras or guayras. It was then molded into bars and stamped with the mark of the Royal Mint. From the mine to the Royal Mint (reconstructed in 1759), the whole production chain is conserved, along with the dams, aqueducts, milling centres and kilns. The social context is equally well represented: the Spanish zone, with its monuments, and the very poor native zone are separated by an artificial river.

Criterion (vi): Potosí is directly and tangibly associated with an event of outstanding universal significance: the economic change brought about in the 16th century by the flood of Spanish currency resulting from the massive import of precious metals in Seville.

Historical reference

  • After the discovery, between 1542 and 1545, of the most important silver mines in the New World, Potosi experienced rapid growth. At the time, the territory known today as Bolivia had been ruled by Spanish authorities since 1538; in 1543 it became part of the Vice-Royalty of Peru.
  • In 1572, the Vice-King Francisco de Toledo put an end to the disorganized exploitation that characterized the first rush towards the mines and replaced it with the introduction of new technical procedures and the establishment of the “mita,” a corv‚e system forced upon the Indians. The city of Potosi and its mines experienced a boom.
  • Around 1580, when the mines reached full production, the industrial infrastructure included a total of 22 dikes and about a hundred crushers. This was the beginning of Potosi’s heyday, which continued into the 17th century. In South America, the city’s prosperity extended as far as the port cities of Buenos Aires and Lima. Potosi’s mines also played a crucial role in the European economy.



Lic. Williams Cervantes

Alcaldía de Potosí

Plaza 10 de Noviembre, N° 1923 Casilla N° 95
Potosí, Bolivia

+00591.2 6223143/140
[email protected]

Sra. Rosalin Aguirre Menacho

Directora de Turismo
Secretaría de desarrollo turístico cultural y patrimonial, Gobierno autónomo municipal de Potosí

[email protected]

Arq. Erland Ovando Leiton

Jefe del Departamento Patrimonio Histórico
Patrimonio Histórico Ayuntamiento de Potosí

Plaza 10 de Noviembre s/n
Potosí, Bolivia

+591.62 27408