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Bolivia mining town takes on both Rio and New York City with giant statue of Virgin

Feb 02, 2013 12:55 am

Skift Take

The kitschy statue has put this small town on the map, but can the hype of the virgin and the accompanying carnival meet expectations?

— Jason Clampet

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Juan Karita  / Associated Press

A nun takes pictures of a newly unveiled statue of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus on Santa Barbara hill in the mining city of Oruro, Bolivia, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. Juan Karita / Associated Press


The Carnival celebrations in this Andean mining city already rival Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro for color and culture, if not for size. Now Oruro has erected a huge statue of the Virgin Mary that’s a little taller than Rio’s famed Christ the Redeemer.

Oruro formally dedicated the new statue Friday as it kicked off its Carnival celebrations, which have been recognized as part of the patrimony of humanity by UNESCO.

The Virgin of Socavon is almost 150 feet (45 meters) high — a shade shorter than New York’s Statue of Liberty and 23 feet (seven meters) higher than Rio’s image of Christ. It’s built of cement, iron and fiberglass to withstand the fierce winds of the high plain.

“If Rio has its Christ and its Carnival, Oruro has its Carnival, and now it has the Virgin. We’re complete,” said Virginia Barrios, a neighborhood leader.

She said construction of the statue cost $1.2 million and took four years.

During Carnival each year, more than 30,000 people dance in procession through the streets, some in elaborate costumes, and brass bands blare. They honor the Virgin of Socavon, the patron saint of the city of roughly 250,000 people.

President Evo Morales, who was a musician in Oruro in his youth, participated in the inauguration of the statue and Pope Benedict XVI sent a message of blessing.

Copyright (2013) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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