Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Huancavelica, once "the pillar of the Spanish empire"

We're at 12,000 feet in the Andes, in a town of about 40,000 called Huancavelica. The city is three hours drive from Huancayo, along twisting mountain roads with (gulp) amazing scenery.
Just to the south of town is the Hill of Santa Barbara, where is found one of the largest deposits in the world of cinnabar, a mercury ore.
It was mined for several thousand years by everybody up to the Incas for its intense red color, and when ground up, was used as a pigment, especially among royalty.
However, when the Spaniards took over, and a process for refining silver that used mercury was invented, the city became immensely important and well off, hence the cathedrals and other signs of old wealth.  (By the way, this is being written behind the second big window on the second floor of the hotel to the left of the church on the main square.)
However, the mines themselves were quite dangerous because of the geology of the area and the dust of the mercury ore, and the Santa Barbara Mine became known as "The Mine of Death."
As the production of ore tailed off in the mines, and the worldwide use of mercury declined due to the recognition of its hazards, the Santa Barbara Mine was finally shut down in1974, but only after the production and shipping of an estimated near-100,000 tons of mercury.
Today, little remains of that mercury dynasty, save some areas with significant contamination, a fascinating history, and shuttered mine entrances.
Despite its spectacular surroundings and a charm shared by few towns in the region, Huancavelica struggles economically, and is reputed to be among the poorest cities in Peru.
OK, not such a humorous entry, but an interesting, beautiful area with a complicated past.  And it was time that you actually learned something.
Dave & Paula

1 comment:

Patti said...

I think I would end up driving off every road from ogling the amazing mountains. And I did learn something! My brain thanks you.