Downtown Oruro is remarkably less colonial than other major cities in Bolivia, maybe due to its relative lack of importance. 3700 meters above the sea level and roughly at the center of the Andean plateau, Oruro features a cold, windy climate; the burning rays of the sun during the day are exchanged by mercilessly freezing nights.
Plaza 10 de Febrero is the town’s focal point. It features less important buildings that its counterparts in La Paz or Sucre, but that creates a good opportunity to enjoy the plaza itself. Most modern cities have obliterated the notion of a central plaza and thus modern people ignore the joy of sitting at a bench surrounded by green gardens while having the absolute certainty of being watching all the main events in town. No revolution would happen without noticing it; no piece of juicy gossip would pass unperceived while enjoying the mid-afternoon sun. Who needs cable television or Internet while a central plaza is nearby?
The other main point of interest in Oruro is the Santuario de la Virgen del Socavón, a church dedicated to the cult of the Socavon Virgin. The cult began at the 16th century at the base of the hill closest to downtown. The image was painted over a mud wall and later a small church was built around it. The church had been restored twice, in the 19th and 20th centuries in what is known as “Republican Colonial” style. A curved staircase at its base, connecting the church with the street gives the place a harmonious look. The Socavon part of the name refers to the nearby mines. The virgin is revered by the miners and the carnival dancing groups.
Below the church is the Museo Minero, where the different aspects of the mining – including the railways and old cars can be studied. As all the Bolivian mines also this one contains underground sanctuaries to the devil, which is called here “Tio.” At first, the concept is confounding. “Tio” means “uncle” in Spanish and that obviously is not the case of the creature facing the nosy visitors. To understand the concept, it must be known that the Quechua language lacks the consonant “D.” Hence, the Spanish “Dios” (God) became “Tio” while the Quechua people tried to pronounce it. Yet, the figure being worshipped there is not God, but Satan. Painted in deep red, with big horns on his head and goat’s feet, it resembles a sitting satyr with a huge erection. The miners in active mines bring him cigarettes, coca leaves, alcohol, and soda drinks on a daily basis.
Nearby is the Museo Etnografico which contains a huge collection of items related to the Chipaya and Uru people – the indigenous people of the area – as well as masks and customs used for the Carnival. It is interesting to note that all the devil masks have huge, round, blue eyes.