In the southwest area of Bolivia lies area called Lipez. It is home to arid deserts, salt plains and a wealth of mineral deposits.When one of the largest, and maybe the largest ever found, silver mines was discovered just above a small town called San Cristobal and the concession was purchased by the Canadian mining consortium Apex Silver the problem arose - what should we do with the town below?
The little town of San Cristobal, population just 350, was right below the mine and in far to dangerous position to allow mining to start. The obvious solution was to move everybody to a new area but the was one major obstacle. In this tiny town there was a 350 old colonial church and no one was in favour of destroying it. So the mining company , in addition to building new homes and modern facilities for the towns population, also transported and rebuilt the church stone by stone 17km to the new site of the village. They carefully moved the cemetery and its contents.
The rebuilt church was reconstructed exactly the same as the original and is now much stronger and should last for many hundreds more years. During the process some previously undiscovered paintings were found within the construction as it was dismantled. No doubt being asked to move your entire village 17km must have been a bit unsettling for the villagers at first but they came out winners in the end with new houses, a restored church, modern medical facilities, sports halls and schools plus the offer of jobs for life for anyone wishing to work for the mining company. Of course this financial cloud also has a very silver lining for the mining company, they were now free to mine in what is possibly the most important silver mine ever found, possibly even more silver rich than Cerro Rico - the mine above Potosi that almost entirely financed Spain during the colonial period.
The town of San Cristobal and its church is a stop off point when returning to Uyuni on the last day of the Salt Flats Tours. It is often only possible to see from outside the gates though as it is often closed