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Mining Towns of Central and Southern Honduras: Santa Lucía, Cedros, Ojojona-Guazucarán, San Antonio de Oriente, Tegucigalpa, Yuscarán, El Corpus

Date of Submission: 11/06/2021
Criteria: (iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Honduras to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Departments of Francisco Morazán, El Paraíso and Choluteca
Ref.: 6543

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Santa Lucía: 487721.79 E - 1560373.84 N
Cedros: 487171.43 E – 1613644.56 N
Ojojona-Guazucarán: 468202.61 E - 1540478.69 N
San Antonio de Oriente: 497342.08 E – 1552720.81 N
Tegucigalpa: 477900.61 E – 1559438.86 N
Yuscarán: 515914.11 E – 1541584.85 N
El Corpus: 496336.06 E – 1468977.49 N

The proposed series is located in the Honduran departments of Francisco Morazán, El Paraíso and Choluteca, most of which have an average altitude of 1000 m a.s.l. and a temperate climate. This is a region through which the mountain ranges of Lepaterique, Misoco and Dipilto cross, and also features coastal areas to the south of the region next to the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, it has a combination of flat and mountainous terrain, with a predominant vegetation of pine trees and, to a lesser extent, oak and cedar trees. Its soils are of volcanic origin rich in minerals. These deposits were located in metamorphic, Paleozoic and Cretaceous sedimentary rocks, which constitute the rugged interior plateau that surrounds Tegucigalpa and Comayagua1.

In the early years of the Spanish conquest of Central America, mining activity was restricted to gold panning in river beds, mainly in Honduras, using indigenous labor. However, by the middle of the 16th century, when Spanish rule was consolidated and the Audiencia de Guatemala had been reestablished, comprising the provinces of Chiapas, Soconusco, Guatemala, Verapaz, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, the region was plunged into a deep crisis due to th depletion of these river sites and the demographic decline of the indigenous population caused by resistance to the conquest and disease. As a result, the colonizers were forced to explore new sources of income.

Indeed, the search for precious metals was one of the motives that encouraged the discovery and conquest of new territories. However, at the time, the minerals of the American continent were the property of the King; that is to say, they belonged to his Royal Estate, and he granted them to his vassals and subjects so that they could work them and get rich, on the condition that they would populate the mines and pay the royal fifths and other duties2. This concession was granted by means of the denuncio, in which the discoverer had to register his discovery before the authorities, who then measured the area and established the boundaries3.

In 1569, a three-yard wide vein was discovered in the hill of San Lorenzo de Guazucarán, very close to the native village of Ojojona and a few kilometers from Tegucigalpa. This discovery ushered in a new era, that of the discovery of silver deposits in the central lands of Honduras4.

Shortly after, the first two mining mills were being built in Guazucarán. Diego Juárez was the first mill officer settled in Honduras, building all the mills and devices for the mineral extraction of Guazucarán5. This mining operation was not local because the interests vested in it extended as far as Guatemala, and its wealth encouraged the search for more minerals: in 1575, the mines of Agalteca were discovered, and by 1576 so were the mines of Veta Gorda and Nuestra Señora de la O.

This mineral wealth had to be controlled because conflicts began to arise. Therefore, on June 22, 1579 the president of the Audiencia de Guatemala, García de Valverde, created the Alcaldía Mayor de Minas de Honduras, which would later become the Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa, with the settlement of Guazucarán as its first headquarters. By the month of October 1579, the abundance of the Santa Lucia hill in Tegucigalpa was discovered, and by 1590 several miners had already established their mills and were exploiting the mineral.

At an undetermined date, the seat of the Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa was moved to the town of Tegucigalpa, defining its jurisdiction by Royal Decree in 1580, encompassing the current departments of Francisco Morazán, El Paraíso, Choluteca and Valle. From that moment on, Tegucigalpa would play a decisive role in Central American mining, and from 1780 the Banco de Rescates was established in Tegucigalpa, acting simultaneously as a Casa de Rescates, and the ingots were transferred from here to Guatemala to be minted.

During the following centuries, new discoveries were made and several Reales de Minas began to be exploited and developed in the XVII century, among them: San Antonio de Yeguare (currently San Antonio de Oriente), whose first records date back to 1659. However, it was not until 1673 that the discovery and formal denouncement of mines in the hill of San Antonio de Yeguare was made.

The gold mines of El Corpus Christy in the region of Choluteca were discovered at the end of the 1680s. Although its mining activity had declined during the second half of the XVIII century, some mines continued to be exploited, which provided a livelihood for the miners. Some of its best-known colonial mines are: Jesús Nazareno (1692), El Corpus (1695), Clavo Rico (1707), San Judas and San Juan (1743). The year mentioned only represents the oldest record of existence but not the date of discovery. Nowadays the industrial and artisanal exploitation of these mines continues.

At the beginning of the 18th century, new Reales de Minas were established, such as San Joseph de Cedros, which by 1730 was already operational, however, the origin of this settlement could be linked to the discovery of the Agalteca mines in 1575.

And San Joseph de Yuscarán in 1741, where gold and silver were extracted, from this century onward, the mines called Quemazones, Guayabillas, San José, Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios, Nuestra Señora de la Cruz, and San Rafael, among others, were formally exploited in Yuscarán.

All these mining sites share a common origin, they aren’t founded nor do they take the royal foundation dispositions as a guideline; in contrast to the other cities of the time. They were born from reports or discoveries of silver and gold mines, since "royal orders established that in order to maintain possession of a mine, its owner had to populate the mines and bring them to within three states of depth in the term of three months"6.

Its urban development is the result of political and economic guidelines of the time, which sought to ensure the proper use of the minerals. The first buildings were constructed in the vicinity of the mine entrances, and had to adapt to the irregular topography of hills and slopes, thus producing a discontinuous outline or "mining plant". The compounds currently conserve the characteristics of spontaneous mining settlements whose architecture, location and origin are unique.

The success of their mines, as mandated by the Spanish crown, meant that small mining settlements were nurtured by a modest but steady stream of settlers. Mining bylaws limited the size of the denuncios, although they allowed individuals to make more than one. This effectively meant that one person could not control large areas of mineral deposits and, as a result, many miners often exploited different veins within the same mining area, or even mined the same vein7.

The series of mining towns in central and southern Honduras are material testimony to this socioeconomic dynamic, each one integrating vernacular architecture, parks and gardens, religious assets, burial sites, remnants of mining mills, manholes, tunnels, and shafts, among other elements that make up the landscape linked to mining activity.

Their urban context is generally made up, except for its monumental structures, of low one-story buildings, cobblestone streets with curvilinear features that outline blocks of very irregular shapes. The church, the town hall, and the surrounding buildings are the most representative in each.

The mining towns have well-defined historical and patrimonial cores that house buildings with architectural value and are characterized by the use of traditional techniques such as stone walls, adobe and bahareque walls, clay tiles on roofs and floors respectively, carved wood for structural and decorative elements. All of these elements represent the manifestations of a vernacular architecture rich in materials, shapes and constructive designs.

These mining centers are also rich in oral tradition, deeply rooted in its inhabitants throughout the centuries. In Cedros and Santa Lucia, it is said that the main devotional images of their churches, the Cristo del Buen Fin and the Señor de Las Mercedes respectively, were awarded by the King of Spain in appreciation for the large amount of silver he had received from the mines in these areas. In the mine "El Clavo Rico" at El Corpus, workers once saw a "golden lizard", but a blasphemy caused an earthquake that buried the mine, even though it was under the patronage of the Virgen de la Candelaria. In addition, national tradition affirms that Ladislao Valladares, a native of Ojojona, designed the National Coat of Arms, incorporating mineshafts inspired by those of the Guazucarán into its design.

Likewise, the particular imprint of these settlements has inspired many artists; resulting in several literary works that depict the landscape of these towns, their population and daily life. Likewise, one of the masters of primitivism in America, José Antonio Velásquez (1906-1983) also portrayed these aspects in his many pictorial works about San Antonio de Oriente, exhibited worldwide, which allows us to interpret these elements through the eyes of their authors.

These mining centers of the Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa dominated production in the Audiencia de Guatemala during the entire colonial period. Some authors suggest that silver production was sufficiently important to sustain the Central American colonial budget in the 18th century, which was decisive for the establishment of the Royal Mint in Guatemala.

Mining involved multiple activities that were born and developed around it, but not only depended on it, thus creating specialized sub-regions in the Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa. In the south and east, cattle ranching developed, since mining demanded large quantities of leather, meat, tallow for candles, as well as the mules needed to transport minerals. Salt was needed for the amalgamation process of silver and gold, as well as for the tannery, which stimulated the salt industry in the Gulf of Fonseca, in the southern zone. Similarly, another material needed for amalgamation, greta (lead monoxide), was obtained from the rich lead deposits in Cedros and Agalteca, or imported from Guatemala. These activities boosted commercial relations with other provinces of the Audiencia.

The labor force for working in the mines was in great demand, mainly barreteros -those who extracted the ore- so called because they used a bar or kickstand, and tanateros, "who used large leather bags or gourds to carry the ore"8. Due to the low demographic decline in the indigenous population, the use of their labor was authorized in activities that were linked to mining, such as agriculture, as it was necessary to supply the mining centers with agricultural goods; previously it was forbidden for them to work in the mines. As a result, the miners were associated with free workers and the regional slave trade, and therefore the exploitation of African slave labor was widespread throughout the colonial period, although not to the extent that it had in other regions of the Americas. However, given the scarcity of slave and free labor, indigenous labor had to be exploited, and the Indian Towns of the Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa had to send personnel to work in the mines. For example, the Indian Town of Ojojona sent natives to the mines of Guazucarán, Yuscarán, Cedros and Santa Lucía, and the native village of San José de Texiguat dispatched indigenous people to the mines of El Corpus.

The ore deposits exploited in Honduras were of two types: lead-free ores, and those associated with lead deposits in the shape of galvanite. Once the ore was crushed manually or by means of the wharf, which were mills with iron hammers powered by mules or by hydraulic power -the most common method used in Honduras-, or by dragging9, the lead-containing minerals were refined using smelting furnaces, requiring large quantities of wood. On the other hand, lead-free ores were refined by the amalgamation process using quicksilver (mercury), salt and magistral (chalcopyrite), or with the addition of lead in the form of greta (lead monoxide) or cendrada (fire lead), this being a novel method used for the first time in New Spain in 155410.

Smelting the ores had the advantage of being a faster and simpler process, yielding greater quantities of metal, and did not require quicksilver, a product monopolized by the Spanish crown, which allowed control over production and tax payments, thus increasing the opportunity to evade these controls. For a variety of reasons, miners were often forced to amalgamate, yet even in the 18th century, about half, or possibly more, of the ores mined in Honduras were smelted, which was a much higher proportion than in Mexico and Peru, where most ores were amalgamated. Still, although the silver deposits in Honduras were never as extensive as those in Mexico and Upper Peru, they appear to have been comparable in quality to those in Mexico and Upper Peru11.

After the independence of Central America in 1821, mining continued to be an important source of income for the newborn State, representing 35.5%12 of its exports by 1853. Its mineral wealth had transcended the borders of the former Spanish Empire, attracting travelers of multiple nationalities, seeking to obtain concessions to exploit it. Between 1880 and 1890, prospectors from mining regions of the United States (California, Nevada, Dakota and Colorado) and European countries such as France, Great Britain and Germany began to arrive. Later, a large number of mainly North American companies were established, such as the New York and Honduras Rosario Mining Company and the Yuscarán Mining Company -dependent of the previous one- that exploited new and old mining areas, also establishing mills to process the ore of other companies in the departments of Francisco Morazán, El Paraíso and Choluteca13. The acceptance of foreign capital and the industrialization of the mining activity were some of the activities that allowed the incorporation of Honduras into the world market.

During the 20th century and after the depletion of minerals in Santa Lucía, Ojojona-Guazucarán; San Antonio de Oriente; Cedros; Yuscarán; El Corpus, and the discovery of new areas with mining potential, industrially and monopolistically exploited by the New York and Honduras Rosario Mining Company, these populations were forced to adopt new means of subsistence

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The province of Honduras, particularly the mining centers of the former Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa, dominated the mining production of silver and gold in the Audiencia de Guatemala since the XVI century and throughout the colonial period. Its wealth prompted the creation of the Royal Mint in Guatemala in the XVIII century (1731), with the Spanish monarch himself recognizing the abundance of minerals "that almost cover the work of the Royal Mint of Guatemala City..."14 Likewise, at the beginning of the 19th century, several proposals were presented with the purpose of transferring it to Honduras, which the Spanish crown accepted but was finally unable to carry out, due to the Central American Independence.

In addition, mining became important at a regional level due to the trade ties with other provinces, since it became an area specialized in mining, which in turn created subspecialties such as livestock and salt, also contributing to the development of religious and domestic silversmithing, besides the shipment of these minerals to Europe.

During the 19th century, the importance of these sites did not decline; they continued to be exploited by the local population and by foreigners who were attracted by the mineral wealth of the area, thus initiating a stage of industrial mining exploitation that kept Honduras as the main exporter of silver and gold in the Central American region.

Undoubtedly, this series of mining towns is a clear example of the mineral wealth exploited from colonial to republican times. These towns are uniquely embedded into the landscape, generating harmonious and picturesque landscapes, which thanks to their modest vernacular architecture, cobblestone streets, religious and industrial heritage, reflect the ways of life associated with the extraction of minerals, as well as the oral traditions and expressions of popular religiousness deeply rooted in the population.

Criterion (iv):
The Mining Towns of central and southern Honduras exemplify the urban development originated by mining. Their irregular layouts are the result of the adaptation to the unique topography, stamping a very particular imprint to their environment, which distinguishes them from the settlements designed during the Spanish colonial era in America, thus forming the most important mining area in Central America between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The series includes seven mining towns in Central and Southern Honduras, each with attributes that demonstrate their Outstanding Universal Value, such as: landscape components integrated by architectural elements and mining artifacts, which illustrate the development of this activity during the colonial era and the beginning of the republic. The towns conserve their urban layout with a plot distribution consistent with their origin; maintaining vernacular architecture, cobblestone streets, public spaces and monuments, mainly Catholic temples, that shape the settlements and their characteristic landscape.

Each element of the series has a Historic District declared National Heritage, with its respective buffer zone and inventories of movable and fixed cultural property, documented history, as well as laws and regulations that control both new constructions and interventions in heritage properties, all of which are duly documented by the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH). These norms are regulated by the Central Government with the support of local governments, but we must also acknowledge the efforts of the community, which with scarce economic resources have achieved their preservation. However, the tendency to use industrialized materials for the construction of new buildings makes mining towns vulnerable and puts the transference of knowledge and traditional techniques of earthen construction systems in precarious circumstances.

The material remains of mining operations maintain a high degree of authenticity. The extraction of ore is evident in the mineshafts, tunnels, galleries and pits. In addition, remains can be found outside the mine entrances related to the working and refinement of the ore, such as mining mills made up of dredges, traction and hydraulic mills, stockpiles, smelting furnaces, etc. These mining vestiges have sustained damage to their integrity, with the elements associated with processing and refining being the most deteriorated due to the effect of natural and human factors, as well as the lack of projects for their management and preservation.

Comparison with other similar properties

The proposed series on the Mining Towns of central and southern Honduras has a differentiating element with the mining sites, being a series that illustrates a territorial scale of mining exploitation in a historical period ranging from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, in the context of the expansion and consolidation of European empires in America.

In this regard, the comparison is difficult since no serial sites related to mining in the Americas were found. However, the one presented by the State of Barbados: "The industrial heritage of Barbados: the history of sugar and rum" presents certain similarities (development of an economic activity and consequently its settlements) and differences (different type of architecture and land use), since it is located in the same geographic-cultural area and is about a serial set -St. Nicholas Abbey; Morgan Lewis; Codington College; Newton Burial Gr. Nicholas Abbey; Morgan Lewis; Codrington College; Newton Burial Gr.; Mount Gay Distilleries St.Lucy - of sugar plantation estates, residential complexes, as well as the infrastructure related to its processing and subsequent transformation into rum, highlighting its sugar cultural landscape. The island of Barbados was a colony of Great Britain for many centuries. Under its influence, it became one of the largest producers of sugar and rum in the Caribbean, exploiting African slave labor. Similarly, the proposed series gathered indigenous, mestizo and African slave labor for their work, forming the most important mining area in Central America during the Spanish colonial era.

However, we also compare with non-serialized sites, such as the following mining towns in the Americas:

Zaruma, which arose in the same historical and economic context, and with urban characteristics similar to those of the series (with the exception of its type of architecture and materials), with its first productive cycle spanning the years between 1575 and 1625, boosting the Andean colonial economy. A second stage of mining revival took place at the end of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, led by foreign investment, mainly from the French, English and Americans, who introduced the prevailing technology of the time, as well as their cultural influence, elements that will also be reflected in the series.

The historic city of Ouro Preto has a particular characteristic. Although it is individually inscribed as World Heritage of Humanity, it is part along with Mariana, Tiradentes, Congonhas, São João del Rey, Sabará and Diamantina, of the so-called historic mining towns of Brazil that reached their splendor in the colonial era15, highlighting the fact that it was not considered as a series. However, the city of Ouro Preto has a monumental architecture of various styles, while the series of Mining Towns features a more modest architecture of vernacular type.

The Historic city of Guanajuato and its adjacent mines, founded by the Spaniards at the beginning of the 15th century. This city became the first world center of silver extraction in the 18th century.16 During this same century, the sites of the series reached their productive peak of silver and gold minerals in the Central American region, which led to the creation of the Royal Mint in Guatemala (1731).

Newson, L. (1989). La minería de la plata en la Honduras colonial, en L, Cáceres (Ed.), Lecturas de Historia de Centroamérica, p. 116.

2 Vildósola Fuenzalida, J. (1999). El dominio minero y el sistema concesional en América Latina y el Caribe. Venezuela: Editorial Latina C.A., p. 93.

3 Newson, L. (1989). La minería de la plata en la Honduras colonial, en L, Cáceres (Ed.), Lecturas de Historia de Centroamérica, p. 116.

4 Gómez, P. (1999). Minas de plata y conflictos de poder: el origen de la Alcaldía Mayo de Minas de Honduras (1569- 1582), YAXKIN, XVIII (1), p. 50.

5 Ibid., p. 61.

6 Ibid., p. 51. The state was a longitudinal measure that used to be set at seven feet.

7 Newson, L. (1989). La minería de la plata en la Honduras colonial, en L, Cáceres (Ed.), Lecturas de Historia de Centroamérica, p. 116-117.

8 Ibid., p. 118.

9Introduced in the 1740s, draglines were generally used to crush ore prior to amalgamation; during the peak of production in the Yuscaran area there were 60 draglines and 17 wharfs in operation. Ídem.

10 Gómez, P. (1999). Minas de plata y conflictos de poder: el origen de la Alcaldía Mayo de Minas de Honduras (1569-1582), YAXKIN, XVIII (1), p. 55.

11 Newson, L. (1989). La minería de la plata en la Honduras colonial, en L, Cáceres (Ed.), Lecturas de Historia de Centroamérica, p. 119, y p. 115.

12 García, E. (2007). Dinámica política y construcción nacional estatal en Honduras (1838-1872). [Tesis de Doctorado, Universidad de Costa Rica]. Repositorio Centro de Investigación en Identidad y Cultura Latinoamericanas (CIICLA), p. 90.

13 Araya Pochet, C. (Mar-Oct 1979). El enclave minero en Centro América: 1880-1945, un estudio de los casos de Honduras, Nicaragua y Costa Rica. Revista de las Ciencias Sociales, 17-18, pp. 20-21.

14 Taracena, L. (1998). Ilusión minera y poder político: La Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa, Siglo XVIII. Honduras: Editorial Guaymuras, p. 205.

15EFE-Reportajes.   Practica   Español.   Ouro   Preto,   la   historia   dorada   de   Brasil.   Recuperado   de: https://www.practicaespanol.com/pt/ouro-preto-la-historia-dorada-de-brasil/

16 Destinos México. Destinos México, Ciudad Histórica de Guanajuato y Minas Adyacentes, recuperado de: https://programadestinosmexico.com/patrimonio-de-la-humanidad/ciudad-historica-de-guanajuato-y-minas- adyacentes.html


Fernández Hernández, B. (diciembre de 1992), Crisis de la minería en Honduras a fines de la época     colonial.     Mesoamérica,     13     (24),     pp.     365-384. Recuperado de: https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=3726718

García, E. (2007). Dinámica política y construcción nacional estatal en Honduras (1838-1872). [Tesis de Doctorado, Universidad de Costa Rica]. Repositorio Centro de Investigación en Identidad y Cultura Latinoamericanas (CIICLA).

Gómez, P. (1999). Minas de plata y conflictos de poder: el origen de la Alcaldía Mayo de Minas de Honduras (1569-1582), YAXKIN, XVIII (1). pp. 43-79.

Newson, L. (1989). La minería de la plata en la Honduras colonial, en L, Cáceres (Ed.), Lecturas de Historia de Centroamérica. pp. 115-140, Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE).

Newson, L. (Jan-Jun., 1984). Silver Mining in Colonial Honduras. Revista de Historia de América (97), pp. 45-76. Recuperado de: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20139526

Taracena, L. (1998). Ilusión minera y poder político: La Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa, Siglo XVIII. Honduras: Editorial Guaymuras.

Velásquez, Mélida. (diciembre de 2001). El comercio de esclavos en la Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa, siglos XVI al XVIII. Mesoamérica, 22 (42), pp. 199-222. Recuperado de: https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=2442835

Vildósola Fuenzalida, J. (1999). El dominio minero y el sistema concesional en América Latina y el Caribe. Venezuela: Editorial Latina C.A.

EFE-Reportajes. Practica Español. Ouro Preto, la historia dorada de Brasil. Recuperado de: https://www.practicaespanol.com/pt/ouro-preto-la-historia-dorada-de-brasil/

Destinos México. Destinos México, Ciudad Histórica de Guanajuato y Minas Adyacentes, recuperado de: https://programadestinosmexico.com/patrimonio-de-la-humanidad/ciudad- historica-de-guanajuato-y-minas-adyacentes.html