In 1650, with a population of 160,000 Potosí was the largest city in the Americans and one of the most important urban centers in the world, renowned for its silver mines, magnificent colonial architecture, churches glistening with gold, and theaters that presented the best of European productions. It was also known for its extravagance and vice. In 1553, 67 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Potosí was decreed an Imperial City by Charles V, King of Spain.
Potosí is a city of contrasts. Some of the residents, dressed in fine, handwoven wool garments, carry on the cultural traditions of their Quechua Indian ancestors. Others, wearing modern clothing, are the Creole descendants of the Spanish and Indians who were drawn to the city by the silver mines. They can be seen minglingin the markets, attending mass in the baroque churches, sitting in the city square, or walking the narrow streets of Potosí, bound by an understanding of the Quechua language but separated by class and cultural barries.
Because of the altitude, it is advisable to take it easy the first day before you making a round of museums, churches, mines and outlying sights. A drive around Potosí by taxi is a good initial introduction, especially until one's system is better suited to the rarefied air. Despite the harsh climate, the residents are easygoing and very hospitable. Women wearing multi-layered skirts and pilgrim-type hats can be seen walking the streets or selling tawa tawas, chambergos or sopaipillas, all delicious sweet pastries typical of Potosí.
It is advisable to take plenty of mate de coca ( coca tea) throughout your stay to help fend off the effects of the altitude. After a relaxing first day and early retirement, the visitor should be in good shape to visit the Casa de la Moneda early the next morning. Just off Plaza 10 de Noviembre, a carved doorway big enough to have allowed horses, mules and llamas to enter opens onto a courtyard with a stone water fountain and a colorful laughing mask created by a Frenchman. If you plan on spending two or three days in Potosí, look for a traditional and delicious peasant dish called Kala Purka, a hearty corn soup served in a ceramic bowl with a steaming-hot volcanic stone in the middle that cooks the soup.
A well-spent afternoon in Potosí could include a trip to the Market on calle Bolivar, where you'll be surprised to see a wide variety of tropical fruits, which seem out of place at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. There are regions in the departament of Potosí that produce grapes, peaches and apples. Oranges and bananas are brought by truck from La Paz or from the south of Sucre. Much of the produce sold at the market comes from the surrounding valleys inhabited by Quechua Indians.
It is said that silver mined here could have paved a road from Potosí to Spain. It is know exactly how much silver was extracted from the Cerro Rico, but it was enough to fill the coffers of the Spanish crown and provide for the growth of painting, music, architecture and literature in Potosí, Sucre and the surrounding regions of South America.
Once you've adjusted to the climate and altitude, you may want to visit the mines. Tours are available every both in the morning and the afternoon, but we aware that on Sunday or holidays there will be less activity and fewer miners actualy working inside.
Potosí, with the most opulent past of any city in Bolivia, is the city of the fritanga, confites and very varied pastries.
Fritanga is a fricasé without the broth and made with red ají. Confites are the most famous of the native candies. They are made from sugar syrup hardened around the center of a coconut, cookie, walnut, Brazil nut or despepitado (dried peach). There are three kinds of confites: first class, wich are violet or white and use the hearts mentioned; second class, wich are violet or white and are hardened around aniseed or coriander seed; and third class which is not for eating. Rather confites of the third class are used as offerings at the ch'alla, a ceremony where coca leaves and liquor are offered to the Pachamama. These confites are made with a quinoa center or no center at all. They are colored with vegetable dye in red, green, blue or pink, but never in yellow or purple.
Potosí's famous pastries come from colonial times. The most famous are: tantawawas ("four-four" in Quechua), wich are sweet pastries deep fried and served with chancaca, (cane) syrup (this recipe comes from colonial times and the name probably refers to "four for a penny"); chambergos, wich are poached before they are deep fried and also served with the brown sugar syrup; and kispinas, wich are made with quinoa flour and steam cooked.
Potosí Typical dishes are:
Aji de Pataskha: This dish is made with hominy corn peel, seasoned with pepper and served with pork.
Chambergos: This is rosquetes with flour and decorated with powdered sugar.
Chajchu: Made with pork (loin), white potato, baked potato flour, red pepper and white onion.
Aji de Achacana: Typical dish containing achacana, soaked potato flour, potato red imilla, medium onions, crushed red pepper, dried llama, garlic, pepper, cumin, parsley and salt.
Karapulka: Made with flour and fried wheat cooked with hot stone.
Puchero potosino: Dish made with beef brisket, garbanza, potato flour, rice, cabbage, potatoes, salt and oregano.
The thayas: are a traditional winter snack potosino because mixing dick, sweet potato or goose weather freezes when the temperature falls to 4 degrees below zero.
The tosinillos: they are unique and have a special preparation that is made by hand in special wells for effect and taste delicious especially for sweets.
The chambergos: have long standing in the Imperial Villa, a dough begins to soak and when cooking is done must burst to achieve smoothness that is prepared in marketing.
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