The Mountain that Eats Men and Empires
February 4, 2009 7:23 AM   Subscribe

It is the Mountain that Eats Men, and it killed millions of people, and is still killing them today. It built and then destroyed the Spanish Empire, brought low the Ottomans, and helped lead to Dutch power. Its mint-mark may be the source of the dollar sign (the mint mark is by the date). It is the highest city in the world, and it holds on to its traditions, like ritual fighting and respect for El Tio, the Lord of the Underworld. It is Potosi, the Silver Mountain.
posted by blahblahblah (15 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
"The Tío from the mine I visited; note his liquor-covered erection." Awesome.
posted by cashman at 7:32 AM on February 4, 2009

Uf. Good post, dense topic.

Life looks less grim when I realize the threat of "black lung" is not in my future.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:36 AM on February 4, 2009

Some posts you know you're going to favorite even before you follow the links. This was one of them.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:09 AM on February 4, 2009

Even today, in colloquial Spanish "it's worth a Potosi" ("vale un Potosí") is roughly equivalent to the English "it's worth a mint"...
posted by Skeptic at 8:24 AM on February 4, 2009

Silicosis is actually white-lung, I think. I first became acquainted with it through Muriel Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead," (it's in Collected Poems) a poem sequence that draws heavily on interviews, testimony, and journalistic accounts of the Hawk's Nest Tunnel Disaster in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. It's pretty fucking heart-wrenching. Life of a miner is no picnic.

Hey, and awesome post, bbb.
posted by ourobouros at 8:28 AM on February 4, 2009

Thanks for the post. I loved the explanations for the dollar sign as they explained a somewhat mangled story our teacher told us about the dollar sign.

He stated that the two vertical lines were the pillars of Hercules and the S through them symbolized the passing of the Strait of Gibraltar as the first step towards the new world. I am tempted to think he got the idea from the above linked Spanish Colonial Real silver coin.
posted by Glow Bucket at 8:35 AM on February 4, 2009

I read this article in Walrus last month and found it near to devastating. Excellent post.
posted by jokeefe at 8:43 AM on February 4, 2009

Other people have said it, but this is a great post, and thanks for it. Will keep me from taking my noontime head-on-desk 15 minute nap.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 8:57 AM on February 4, 2009

Note the first link goes to the print version of the article which I normally applaud due to the absence of stupid pointless pagination but in this case it means you don't see the accompanying images (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) which really go well with the text.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:30 AM on February 4, 2009

A beautiful book of photos by Stephen Ferry.. some of these images were used in the intermission of the recent Soderbergh Che movie.
posted by mert at 9:49 AM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I visited the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West this past weekend, and a large part of the upper floor was devoted to an exhibit on Potosi. It was so fascinating that I lost my mind and just started taking pictures of all the information cards so I could remember everything and look it up later. This helps, thank you--I found the Slate article but I missed the Walrus one.

It may be mentioned in one of your links, but just in case it isn't: there was a book of photography in the gift shop called I Am Rich Potosi that looked excellent. I'll probably try to get my hands on a used copy in the near future.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 9:56 AM on February 4, 2009

Look at me and listen... I'm The Man On The Silver Mountain.

(Nothing to do with the article, but it's a bitchin' song regardless.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:35 AM on February 4, 2009

Worth noting: the Potosí silver fuelled a thriving Pacific trade between the Spanish and Chinese Empires through the Spanish colony in the Philippines. Twice a year, the Manilla galleon sailed between Acapulco and Manilla, bringing silver from America to Asia, and Chinese wares on the way back (nothing new under the sun, I guess).

On the way back, the Manilla galleons sailed down the coast of California, simultaneously exploring it for possible havens, thus opening the way for its firs European settlers...
posted by Skeptic at 10:58 AM on February 4, 2009

Glow Bucket, as the Wikipedia article sources a 1957 print book with the same theory, I don't think it was your teacher who mangled it. As there is no explicit historical derivation, there has long been speculation about its origin, some more fanciful than the rest.

It's rather fascinating that near Potosi is a vast salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni^, which could make Potosi a lithium capital as demand for battery cells increases.
posted by dhartung at 3:59 PM on February 4, 2009

Mind you, that bit about Janissaries revolting in 1589 because they hadn't been paid ignores the fact that the Janissaries revolted on a fairly regular basis, both before and after that year.

Quibble on a good post.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:19 PM on February 4, 2009

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