Oruro, city and department of Bolivia. Officially founded in 1606, the city lies north of Lake Poopó at an altitude of 12,150 feet. The region ranked second to Potosí during the remainder of the colonial period as a silver producer in the Audiencia of Charcas.
The Aymara reportedly worked mines in the region during Inca times. Around 1557 Indians from Paria revealed their location to Lorenzo de Aldana, the Spanish encomendero, but Potosí's competition for workers and resources handicapped their development. When the major lodes of San Miguel and San Cristóbal were discovered in 1595, thousands flocked to the vicinity, including the priest of Colquemarca, Francisco de Medrano, who played an important role in exploiting the mineral wealth and populating the region. Manuel Castro Padilla, oidor (judge) of the Audiencia (high court) of Charcas, founded the Royal Villa of St. Philip of Austria of Oruro on 1 November 1606. The following year a royal treasury office opened in Oruro to collect taxes on the silver output.
In contrast to Potosí, Oruro received little attention from Spain. Mine operators at Oruro petitioned the government to assign them a Mita (cheap forced labor). But Viceroy Francisco de Toledo had already assigned the region to send mita workers to Potosí. Thus Oruro's demands could only be satisfied at the expense of its more famous competitor. The upshot was that on the one hand Oruro's operators had to hire costly free workers. On the other hand, Oruro, closer to the mercury mines at Huancavelica, paid less than Potosí for mercury to amalgamate its silver ores. But in times of shortage, Potosí's influence probably enabled its refiners to obtain extra mercury to the detriment of smaller camps such as Oruro.
Oruro's initial boom quickly ran its course. Miners had worked the rich, oxidated silver chloride ores on the surface but had not discovered how to refine efficiently the negrillos (deeper silver sulphide ores). In January 1627 Antonio de Salinas adapted the techniques used to amalgamate ores at Potosí to Oruro conditions and touched off another boom. Based on tax records, silver production more than doubled after 1610, reaching more than 3.5 million pesos de ocho (pieces of eight) in 1632. Output then declined rapidly to about half a million pesos per year and then remained stagnant. A modest rise began around 1690, but the great pan-Andean epidemic ended it in 1719. After the crown halved the tax on silver to 10 percent in 1736, Oruro's output doubled to nearly 1.2 million pesos in 1762.
Following the Túpac Amaru uprising near Cuzco and the murder of Tomás Catari in Chayanta, rebellion convulsed Oruro on 10 February 1781. Led by Juan de Dios Rodríguez, Jacinto Rodríguez, and Sebastián Pagador, creoles attacked Oruro's Spaniards. With Indians recruited from outside, the rebels looted, destroyed, and killed for several days before order was partially restored.
Oruro's decayed condition at independence reflected a general exhaustion of its ores and the destruction suffered in rebellions and wars. In 1810 the city revolted against the crown. Royalist forces later destroyed most of the mining infrastructure. Oruro's population declined from 75,920 in 1678, of whom half were Indians, to only 8,000 or less at independence.
In 1826 the city became the administrative center of the department of Oruro. Besides silver, demand for tin and tungsten helped reinvigorate the mining industry. In the late nineteenth century Oruro became a railroad center, linking much of Bolivia with Peru and Chile. The city's population rose from 13,575 in 1900 to more than 175,000 in 1988. As of 2005, its population was projected to be 433,481.
Of all Bolivian cities, Oruro enjoys fame for its folkloric celebrations, especially its carnival. Masked dancers portray the Spanish conquest of the Andes, including Pizarro's execution of Atahualpa. In honor of the Virgin of the Socavón (Mine), figures represent a myriad of saints and demons, Spaniards and Indians, in a colorful union of native and Christian lore.
Marcos Beltrán Avila, Capítulos de la historia colonial de Oruro. La Paz, 1925.
Lillian Estelle Fisher, The Last Inca Revolt, 1780–1783. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966, esp. pp. 140-157.
Mario Montaño Aragón, Síntesis histórica de Oruro (1972).
Luis Guerra Gutiérrez, Elarte en la prehistoria orureña: Síntesis (1977).
Condarco Santillán, Carlos; Llanque, Ricardo Jorge. El Carnaval de Oruro. Oruro: Casa Municipal de Cultura: Latinas Editores, 2002.
Robins, Nicholas A. El mesianísmo y la rebelión indígena de Oruro en 1781. La Paz, Bolivia: Hisbol, 1997.
Kendall W. Brown