The unmissable Casa Real de la Moneda (Royal Mint) is one of South America’s most outstanding examples of colonial civil architecture and home to Bolivia’s best museum. The vast, eclectic collection includes the original machinery used in the minting process; some of Bolivia’s finest colonial religious art; militaria; archeological artefacts; and a huge collection of coins. Visits are by guided tour only: these start soon after the morning and afternoon opening times and are conducted in Spanish, English or French depending on demand. It can be very cold inside the complex, so wear something warm.
Constructed between 1759 and 1773 for over a million pesos de oro to replace the earlier royal mint, La Moneda is a formidable construction, built as part of a concerted effort by the Spanish crown to reform the economic and financial machinery of the empire in order to increase its revenues. Along with Lima and Mexico City, Potosí was one of only three cities in Spanish America authorized to produce coins. Occupying an entire city block, La Moneda is enclosed by 1m-thick stone walls with only a few barred windows, giving it the appearance of a fortress. Inside is a two-storey complex of about two hundred rooms off five internal courtyards. As well as housing all the heavy machinery needed to produce coins La Moneda also housed troops, workers, slaves and senior royal officials, who were responsible for ensuring that the Spanish crown received its ten-percent cut of all silver produced in Cerro Rico’s mines. A vital nerve centre of Spanish imperial power, it also served as a prison, treasury, and stronghold in times of strife.