The Carnaval de Oruro (or Carnival of Oruro), is the biggest annual cultural event in Bolivia.
Celebrated in Oruro, the folklore capital of Bolivia, the carnival marks the Ito festival for the Uru people. Its ceremonies stem from Andean customs, the ancient invocations centering around Pachamama (Mother Earth, transformed into the Virgin Mary due to Christian syncretism) and Tio Supay (Uncle God of the Mountains, transformed into the Devil). The native Ito ceremonies were stopped in the 17th century by the Spanish, who were ruling the territory of upper Peru at the time. However, the Uru continued to observe the festival in the form of a Catholic ritual on Candlemas, in the first week of each February. Christian icons were used to conceal portrayals of Andean gods, and the Christian saints represented other Andean minor divinities. The ceremony begins 40 days before Easter.
Legend also has it that in 1789, a mural of the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared in a mineshaft of the richest silver mine in Oruro. Ever since, the Carnival has been observed in honor of the Virgen de la Candelaria (Virgin of the Candle Mass) or Virgen del Socavon (Virgin of the Mineshaft). The most important elements of the Carnival now occur in and around the Sanctuaria del Socavon (The Church of the Mineshaft).
Oruro's Carnival has become Bolivia's most renowned and largest annual celebrations. It's a great time to visit, when this somewhat unfashionable mining city becomes the focus of the nation's attention. In a broad sense, these festivities can be called re-enactments. The festival is so interlaced with threads of both Christian and indigenous myths, fables, deities and traditions that it would be inaccurate to oversimplify it in this way.
Ceremonies begin several weeks before Carnaval Oruro itself, with a solemn pledge of loyalty to the Virgin in the sanctuary. From this date on, there are various candelite processions and dance groups practice boisterously in the city's streets.