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Totora: Colonial City in Bolivia

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Summary of The City of Totora

By  Gral. Oscar  Escobar Quiroga

A devastating earthquake of magnitude 5.8 on the Richter scale rocked the City of Totora, capital of the province of Carrasco in the Department of Cochabamba,  on May 22, 1998.   Approximately 3000 aftershocks were recorded after that violent quake.

The damage caused by this natural disaster,  added to the existing damage to the city infrastructure due to abandonment and lack of maintenance,  puts at grave risk the loss of an almost intact urban area that preserved the colonial architecture of the Republic of Bolivia.

Experts evaluating the damage suggest that the structures did not  collapse because they were constructed of adobe blocks of greater size in comparison to present day construction, and beams made of wood of the Quina Quina that has extraordinary hardness and resistance.

The reconstruction aid received to date was minimal; about 100 new small houses with a modern look were completed; these looked different from the old houses, and consequently were not in harmony with the colonial architecture.

To date nothing has been done to recover the main construction with the exception of the Cultural Center  (previously the Mayor's Office) and the Church.  The Church is being completed by the effort and the good will of a group of proud Totorenos who were born and raised in this beautiful city.

Very little attention was paid to owners with scarce economic resources.   The promises of economic support  for small homeowners have so far not been fulfilled.

During the present year the city of Totora was declared CULTURAL PATRIMONY OF the NATION; nevertheless, the benefits that this declaration implies is not readily seen by the public.


Totora is the capital of the Province of  Carrasco,  located in the Department of Cochabamba, in the center of South America.   An asphalt road of length 140 kms through a pleasant and changing landscape connects it to the City of Cochabamba.   The city of Totora is close to the tourist centers of Inca Llajta, Pocona and  Sihuenkha National Park.

Because of the topography of the cordillera and valley, the province has two different geographic and climatic regions:  the one of mountain range and the other of level tropical land.  The Summer temperature varies between 15 and 22 degrees Celsius,  and the Winter temperature varies between 10 and 18 degrees Celsius.


The city owes its development to the following factors:


Coca leaf was produced in the yungas of Totora  prior to the time of the Incas; the area was populated by members of the YURACARES ethnic group.  The Incas explored the land originally, but the Spaniards explored it more extensively. The Spaniards supplied coca leaves to the silver and gold mines of Potosi to keep the  indigenous people working harder for longer hours.  This was the era in which the city of Totora started blossoming.

After Bolivia gained its independence and became a Republic,  the discovery of minerals like Tin, Lead, Copper, and other metals increased the population for the operating the mines, and consequently increased the demand for coca leaves.  This time the miners were working in more humane conditions.


The zone of the Totora Valley was and is one of the zones that produces potatoes, wheat and barley.   The landowners and the coca growers living in the city of Totora, had links with Europe where they sent their children to study.  It is said that the architecture, especially along the main plaza  of Totora,  is an exact copy of a small city in France.


Totora was a central hub between  the cities of Cochabamba,  Sucre  and Santa Cruz.   The movement among these cities gave economic opportunities to many people engaged in  the commerce, hotels, restaurants and transportation related industries. 


As a geographical hub, the road network converged upon Totora  as a center of commercial interchange of products of the Bolivian tropics (cattle, horses, mules, molasses, rice, sugar, and fruit) and products of the West or valleys (salt, wheat, maize, medicines etc.) This interchange gave the city an important entry in the economic field in form of taxes and the inhabitants being the agents of exchange.


A great fair occurred weekly in the city of Totora  to trade commercial products from approximately 50 kms.   From the local area, and the products of the Tropics, the Valley and yungas  gave rise to interesting income to the municipality and inhabitants of Totora.


We can speculate on the factors that caused the city of Totora  to almost become a ghost town:

A) - The  Reforma Agraria (Land Reform)  forced landowners to flee from productive lands of the CARRASCO VALLEY.

B) - Deflection of the old highway to Santa Cruz by Epizana-Siberia road link curtailed important economic activity, and reduced the  income of the people engaged in the commercial, hotel, and lodging industries, to the extent that they were forced to emigrate.


The Land Reform, and the diversion of the highway caused farmers to create their own fairs  off the main road.   This reduced an important source of income to Totora.  Currently, residents of the city go to the local rural fairs.


The new highway through the Cochabamba Tropics  (Villa Tunari, Chimore,  Bulo Bulo, etc.)  isolated Totora from commercial and economic activity, and had a devastating effect.  Some producers of coca leaf in the yungas relocated to Chapare to take advantage of the 2 - 3 hours from Cochabamba compared  to 2-3 day long walk from Totora.  The illegal drug traffic in cocaine caused a further loss of prestige.  The yungas of Totora  were deserted, and over a period of ten years were declared  Forest National Parks that prohibited new agricultural development.

WrittenbyOscar; TranslatedBabelWebmaster; SpanishAuthoratative

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Last modified: June 01, 2009