The giant face which greats you at the mint

Billed as ‘the best museum in Bolivia’ by one of the guidebooks, Casa Real de la Moneda had a big reputation to live up to. With only one full day in Potosi I came straight off my mine tour and hit the museum – which may possibly have affected my enjoyment of it somewhat as I was slightly underwhelmed. The building itself is incredible – it’s almost hard to believe it’s as old as they say as, apart from the 500 year old style, it looks almost new. So it was the monotone tour guide that lost me I think – he sounded like a bored Stephen Hawkin and managed to make some absolutely fascinating tales torture to listen to. I was also a bit miffed to find out that it was an extra 20 Bolivianos to take photos inside the museum (basically doubling the entrance fee) – not possessing a decent camera I didn’t bother… so all coin shots are sourced off the internet!

Casa Real de la Moneda was the first Royal Spanish coin mint built in Potosi (which at the time was one of the biggest and most important cities in the world). In those days Spain was the world’s dominant empire and after discovering the riches inside Cerro Rico it began flooding the world with their 95% pure silver coins. Due to the inherent value in the almost pure silver pieces, this became the world’s first true global currency – Spanish money being accepted as far away as Asia and Africa. It was fascinating to see some of these ancient coins and even more so to be seeing them in the place in which they were made. You could even see foot prints in the stone floor created by the repetition and force applied by the men pressing them by hand 500 years ago.

The tour itself took around 2 hours. The only way to view the museum is with a guide – available in several languages. As previously mentioned our English language guide was not the most inspiring speaker (to be fair it’s not his native tongue, but I don’t think that was the problem). A more enthused guide would have really illuminated the tour I imagine as even with robofacts it was a fascinating place. In the two hours we covered; the origins of the mint, technological developments of the presses, the four hundred plus year history as well as seeing many ancient artefacts and processes. Towards the end of the tour there are also a couple of fairly random rooms showing mummified foetuses and babies from some ancient culture and a large collection of precious minerals. The babies were particularly freaky.

A funny little irony that was explained to us right at the end was that on closing the mint down in the sixties, all the production of Bolivian notes and coins was outsourced to other countries. So having once provided the whole world with it’s money, they now relied on the world for their currency (even more ironically it was Spain that provided the coins to begin with).

Definitely one of the highlights of Potosi, I can see how it’s achieved it’s reputation as one of Bolivia’s best museums… just go with a Spanish guide if you’re able to understand or hope for a more inspiring English speaker.