In the southwest area of Bolivia lies an 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 that lies below?
An Unusual Solution
The little town of San Cristobal, population just 350, was right below the mine. It was in a far too dangerous position to allow mining to start. The obvious solution was to move everybody to a new area and what resistance there was overcome easily enough with cash rewards and the promise of jobs but there was one major obstacle they didn’t foresee.
In this tiny town there was a 350 old colonial church and no one was in favor of destroying it. So the mining company, in addition to building new homes and modern facilities for the town’s population, also transported and rebuilt the church stone by stone 17 km to the new site of the village. They carefully moved the cemetery and its contents.
They reconstructed and rebuilt the church exactly the same as the original. It is now much stronger and should last for many hundreds more years. During the process they even found some previously undiscovered paintings within the construction as they were dismantling it. There is no doubt that moving an entire village 17 km 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 and modern medical facilities. They got new sports halls and school. Plus they received the offer of jobs for life for anyone wishing to work for the mining company.
Richer Then Cerro Rico
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. This mine was 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.