Potosí is one of Bolivia's most historic colonial cities, the capital of Potosí Department and at an altitude of 4090m / 13,420ft one of the highest cities is the world. The colonial city was founded in 1545 as Villa Imperial de Carlos V at the foot of Cerro Rico ("Rich Mountain"), which dominates views of the city and whose huge silver deposits soon meant than Potosí became one of the most important cities in the Spanish Empire and the world's largest industrial complex at the time. By the early 17th century Potosi was the largest and richest city in the Americas, producing much of the silver from the New World and rivalling the great European cities for splendour. Estimates put the number of slaves (mostly indigenous people brought from all over the Spanish Empire) who died inside Cerro Rico extracting the silver in millions.
As the silver started to run out Potosí's fortunes declined considerably, though tin mining became important in the mid-19th century. Today mining is still the mainstay of the economy, and many beautiful colonial buildings (most notably churches and the Casa de la Moneda / Royal Mint) survive as a reminder of Potosí's glory days. The historic city, industrial sites and Cerro Rico were declared a UNESCO Heritage Site on 11th December 1987.