Potosi Stories and Tips

The Churches of Potosi

Cathedral Photo, Potosi, Bolivia

Little is left of Potosi’s eighteenth century splendor. The main clue to it is the incredible amount of magnificent colonial churches, which surpass many times the needs of the small modern town. Downtown Potosi alone hosts sixteen colonial churches in different styles, including Mestizo, Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassic. A single day would not be enough to study them, though a quick survey can give a good idea of how the town looked a quarter of millennia ago.

The most interesting churches are within walking distance from the central Plaza 10 de Noviembre. On the plaza itself is the wonderful Catedral de Potosi, which was at the time of my visit hiding behind scaffoldings due to a massive restoration process. It was built between 1808 and 1836; thus the temple is a later addition to the colonial town. Built in stone and brick, it includes two gorgeous towers and is considered to be the best neoclassic structure in Bolivia. In 1924 it became a cathedral.

The Convento de Santa Teresa on Chichas Street includes a splendid church in earthly red tones and a monastery with a wonderful collection of religious art; it was founded in 1684. It was constructed in Baroque style with Mestizo influences. The attached monastery was built in 1761 and includes a collection of religious paintings and objects; the nuns prepare and sell sweets called mazapan.

The San Lorenzo Church is next to the central market, on Bustillos Street, and was built from 1548 onwards; in 1775 it was not finished yet. Originally it was aimed as a missionary center for the indigenous people of the surrounding areas and thus the Mestizo influences on its basic Baroque style are especially strong. Its unique facade is one of the best examples of Mestizo style in the country; the many indigenous people appearing in the carvings are a unique characteristic of this temple.

Iglesia y Torre de la Compañía de Jesús on Ayacucho Street, one block from the central plaza, is a tower of bewildering shape and is considered to be the most important structure built in the eighteenth century in Bolivia. It roughly resembles a triumph arch with three domes and thirty-two columns. Built between 1581 and 1599, it was massively renovated in the eighteenth century, when it got the actual facade. It is possible to climb up the tower and get good views of the city; despite that it is almost impossible to take a picture of the tower itself, since it is placed in a quite narrow street.

The Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco on Nogales Street was the first church established in Potosí. Its construction began in 1547. The construction seen nowadays was constructed between 1707 and 1727, and belongs to the Golden Era of Potosi. It includes a collection of paintings from colonial days and a museum of religious art. On a stone-blocked side door there is a wonderful wood cross.

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