POTOSÍ. Potosí was a city and a region in Upper Peru (modern Bolivia) and was the most celebrated mining district in colonial Spanish America. With the discovery of silver at the Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) in 1545, Spaniards and Andeans rushed to exploit the fabulously rich ores, and the city of Potosí grew.
The first boom ended around 1560 with exhaustion of the rich surface ores that could be refined with indigenous smelting ovens (guayras). The next, from the mid-1570s until the early 1600s, began with the introduction of amalgamation, a new technology capable of profitably refining lower-grade ores. Official annual output reached 7 million ounces, and contraband refining added to that. Vale un Potosí ("It's worth a Potosí") came to mean something priceless.
To compensate refiners for the cost of underground mining, mills to pulverize ore, and mercury for amalgamation, in 1573 Viceroy Francisco de Toledo adapted the Inca system called mita of rotating forced indigenous labor, to provide workers for the mines. It provided Potosí with as many as 13,400 low-paid corvée workers per year. Mita workers probably made up half the labor force, with free laborers the remainder. Work at Potosí was dangerous and unhealthy, and the mita disrupted life in indigenous communities.
Despite its altitude, which made it necessary to import basic necessities and luxuries alike, Potosí had more than 100,000 inhabitants by 1600. As silver output declined after 1620 with depletion of its best ores, Potosí's population dropped. After the crown halved the mining tax to a tenth, Potosí experienced a modest revival in the mid-1700s, but it only had 10,000 residents by the end of the colonial period.
Nonetheless, Potosí epitomized the grandeur and brutality of Spain's colonial system. Its silver subsidized Spanish imperialism and helped monetarize the European and world economies.
See also Coins and Medals ; Colonialism ; Exploration ; Pizarro Brothers ; Spanish Colonies: Peru .
Bakewell, Peter J. Miners of the Red Mountain: Indian Labor in Potosí, 1545–1650. Albuquerque, 1984. Excellent analysis of technological and economic aspects of silver production, as well the mita and free labor.
Tandeter, Enrique. Coercion and Market: Silver Mining in Colonial Potosí, 1692–1826. Albuquerque, 1993. Traces the crown's attempt to reverse Potosí's decline.
Kendall W. Brown
"Potosí." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/potosi
"Potosí." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/potosi
Potosí (pōtōsē´), city (1992 pop. 112,078), capital of Potosí dept., S Bolivia, at the foot of one of the world's richest ore mountains. In the cold, bleak, high Andes at an altitude of c.13,780 ft (4,200 m), Potosí is one of the highest cities in the world. There is no agriculture in the region. Potosí was founded in 1545 and during its first 50 years was the most fabulous source of silver the world had ever known. Because of isolation, living discomfort, and a series of disasters, such as the flood of 1626, the mines proved unable to compete with those of Peru and Mexico. Improved technology and communications, however, have made possible the exploitation of silver, as well as tin, lead, and copper, and the revival of commercial life. Furniture, beverages, electrical equipment, and mosaics are manufactured. The city's colonial landmarks include the Mint House, a replica of Spain's Escorial. Potosí's university was founded in 1571.
"Potosí." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/potosi
"Potosí." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/potosi