Today is Potosi’s anniversary, celebrating 203 years of freedom, and I saw no better way to commemorate my beloved city but to share an interesting article that will be housed in Bolivia 101: The Basics.
Juan Jose Toro Montoya writes in Los Tiempos:
1622. The galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha departed from Callao, heading to Cartagena de Indias to join the Indias fleet in one of its trips back to Spain. More than a set of ships, the fleet was the economic engine of the colonial Spain as it transported the wealth of the viceroyalties to the metropolis. Recently released, the Atocha was the most important of that trip because it should carry the silver of the Peru, silver that was mined from Cerro Rico de Potosi, melted, turned into ingots and minted in the Mint [Casa de la Moneda, Potosi] to then split into long convoys of mules [and llamas] heading to Callao. Once in Cartagena, the fleet left to Portobelo to then head to Havana, the last stop of a journey whose destination is Seville. But fate had other plans. Already in Havana, the departure of the fleet is delayed and newly out on September 4, in full hurricane season. A day later, as it headed to the Bahamas channel, it was hit by a terrible storm that sank eight of their boats, including the Margarita and Nuestra Señora de Atocha.
1960. Mel Fisher, a diving instructor born in Indiana, United States, which had already participated in searches for sunken into the sea treasures, found the Atocha data in the archive of the Indies in Seville. From then on, that treasure became his obsession. He organized a company called Treasure Salvors and both he and his family were devoted to search for it.
1985. 25 years and tons of mud by then, Kane Fisher, son of Mel, located the Atocha. At the time, it was considered the most important maritime discovery in history because, despite the fact that the detail of the rescued pieces were never reported officially, that content reached 24 tons of silver in 1,038 bullion, 180,000 pesos in silver coins, 582 ingots of copper, 125 bars and discs of gold and jewelry whose record does not appear in the cargo manifest.
It is said that the value of the Treasury reached $450 million dollars but experts calculated larger sums.
The treasure of the Atocha is just one of many that emerged from Potosi, heading to Callao to then follow the long route to Seville. In 1548, the first shipment was 7,771 silver bars that took six months to reach Arequipa. From then until 1809, tons and tons of silver left Potosi to never return. Not all the ships came to Spain. Some were killed by storms and others robbed by pirates. In 1804, the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes sank, whose loading of 17 tons of silver was found in 2007 by the company Odyssey Marine Exploration which, after the discovery, was plunged into a dispute that ended up giving the rights of the treasure to the Government of Spain.
1998. On the occasion of the death of Mel Fisher, National Geographic broadcast a documentary on the Atocha treasure and Ramiro Rivero Mendoza, a Potosi citizen who was on a business trip, is interested to see the coins and find them similar with the coined ones at the Mint. He contacts by phone Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and learns that there are several pieces for sale. Bids for a silver coin and agrees the price: $200.
1999. Rivero arrives at his natal Potosi and donated the piece of metal to the Mint Museum. [my respects to him!]
377 years and tons of silver later, a coin, only one of billions, returned to its place of origin, a land that, tons of silver and 468 years later, remains poor.
The author is a journalist, national prize in journalism history.
Come to Potosi, take the tour to the mine at the Cerro Rico, learn about the silver that set the stage for western culture expansion!