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There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Bolivia, home to one of the highest capital cities in the world. Best known for among travelers for its beautiful landscape, there are a number of Bolivia historical sites worth visiting, as well. Using the UNESCO list as a basis for the historical sites worthy of visiting, note that there are six cultural sites and one natural site. One of these sites, City of Potosi, is on UNESCO’s Endangered List.
- City of Potosí (1987)
- Fuerte de Samaipata (1998)
- Historic City of Sucre (1991)
- Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos (1990)
- Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System (2014)
- Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture (2000)
- Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (2000)
City of Potosí (1987)
The city of Potosi is the endangered property listed by UNESCO of key historical sites in Bolivia. This city is located in Southern Bolivia at the foot of Cerro Rico Mountains—but its still located at more than 4,000 meters above sea level. The cultural significance of Potosi is closely linked to the Cerro Rico Mountains, which was once the home of the world’s largest silver deposit. In fact, the mining in Cerro Rico was a big factor in Spain’s rise to global economic power and the value of its currency. It was in 1572 that a Spaniard visited the city and discovered the mines, leading Spain to take control of this land. During this time, the locals were forced to work in the mines under abusive circumstances. This also forced the Spaniards to move into the city, wherein you can now see remnants of a mixture of hut styles and villas. The urgency with which the Spaniards moved in here resulted in a lack of planning in terms of how the houses and structures were built.
By the 17th century, the supply and demand for silver dwindled. Even though it was recognized by UNESCO as a cultural heritage site in 1987, it has quickly lost its global heritage (but not historical value) as the years passed.
Fuerte de Samaipata (1998)
Fuerte de Samaipata, also known as El Fuerte or Fort Samaipata, is a cultural site in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia. This property encompasses a pre-Columbian archeological site within the province of Florida. Inscribed by UNESCO in 1998, this property located in the eastern foothills of the Bolivian Andes is a popular tourist destination. However, it serves a more important cultural function because it is home to structures linked with three different cultures: Inca, Spanish and Chane.
Despite the name, which refers to it as a fort, there are more structures to be found within this archaeological site. These structures include houses, ceremonial buildings, and religious structures as well. The Inca structure has been dated to have been built sometime in the 15th to the 16th centuries. Meanwhile, the Spanish structures can be traced to around the 17th century because this was also around the same time when they established the town of Samaipata in 1618.
Historic City of Sucre (1991)
Another cultural site in Bolivia, the historic city of Sucre is considered as the best example of how European and local traditions and styles have come together as one. In fact, if you explore the historic part of the city of Sucre, you will find the typical Spanish colonial checkerboard street pattern that has been preserved until today.
The site was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage property in 1991 under the colonial and urban landscape category. It was a city founded by the Spaniards in the early 1500s. At first, they named it La Plata but it was later re-named to honor Antonio Jose de Sucre, who is Bolivar’s right-hand man. For most of Sucre’s history, it became known as the playground for the royals and the wealthy Spaniards.
Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos (1990)
The Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos is a collection of 6 churches that exhibit the heritage of the reductions. This Christian religious structure is also the best example of the theocratic settlements in the region. Hence, it was recognized as a culturally important site by UNESCO in 1990.
The churches in the Jesuit Missions exhibit a unique architectural style. These churches are made out of wood together with a double-sloping roof and large porch roof. The Jesuit Fathers who established these churches and settlement were sent by the Spanish crown to introduce Christianity to the indigenous communities of Bolivia. There were 10 missions that were discovered in the Chiquitos region alone. These missions were determined to have been founded in the late 17th to early 18th centuries.
Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System (2014)
This transnational cultural property is the latest addition to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia. Inscribed in 2014, this Andean Road System represents an ancient and extensive road system that was developed by the Inca civilization. This road system was advanced for its time considering that it was built during pre-Columbian South America. The construction of the road required a huge expenditure in time and money. Hence, it is quite impressive how this road system has held up for more than 400 years and the fact that it is still in good condition until today.
Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture (2000)
Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture is the final entry in the list of cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia. This property encompasses a group of ruins within the capital of an important empire in the Andes region.
The Tiwanaku culture reached its height in 500 and 900 AD. This empire ruled majority of Bolivia as well as other neighboring countries such as Chile, Peru and Argentina. The inhabitants and members of the Empire are masters of agriculture. The terraced fields are some of the most notable agricultural works from this empire. In addition, they were also farmers of quinoa and potatoes.
On top of the agricultural practices that provided a glimpse into the way of life of the Tiwanaku culture, the ruins of the empire are still seen today. These structures included residential buildings that were mostly built by adobe. This ancient capital once had up to 125,000 inhabitants.
Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (2000)
Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, which was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia in 2000, is the only natural site in this list. This national park spans 750,000 hectares of land area. Majority of this area that is protected by UNESCO consists of Serrania de Huanchaca.
This national park sits on a transitional zone from the rainforests of the Amazon to the dry forests and savannas of Cerrado. Hence, there are five distinct habitats that form the property of the national park. These habitats include upland evergreen forest, deciduous forest, savanna wetlands, forest wetlands, and upland cerrado savanna. Due to this diverse habitat, the national park is home to over 4,000 species of plants and over 130 species of mammals, 620 species of birds and 70 reptile species.