Artigas, a gem attraction in Uruguay

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Original article found here in La Prensa Latina.

Artigas, Uruguay, Apr 21 (EFE).- In Uruguay’s northwestern city of Artigas, there is a different form of serenity that lies beneath the ground, where varieties of agates and amethysts formations can be found.

In 1844, a German named D. Nicholas Eifler was touring the area when he came across agates deposits and said “I am rich!”

He died without deep pockets soon after, however.

Although this version of the story taken from a 1902 diary by historian Anibal Barrios cannot be confirmed, it was some German immigrants who found this mineral wealth in Artigas, bordering southern Brazil.

Agates were the first to be extracted by the Germans Nicolas Schuch and Augusto Becker, while amethysts were not considered valuable at the time.

Both gemstones do not fall into the category of “precious,” but they are coveted and found in countries such as Canada, India, Sri Lanka or Madagascar.

The Uruguayan stones, however, are unique because they are “the best agates and amethysts in the world,” Artigas mayor Pablo Caram tells Efe.

“They have a color that makes it different from the Brazilian one; if you go to international markets in Tucsony, Italy and China, they immediately tell you that the stone is from Artigas because it has a warmth in its color and that is impressive,” says Caram.

In a recent visit to Artigas, six European ambassadors, who accompanied the EU ambassador in Uruguay, Paolo Berizzi, on his first tour of the northern part of the country, were also amazed by its beauty.

Back in 2011, the Hotel Casino San Eugenio del Cuareim reopened in Artigas but did not get many visits, according to its manager, Mateo Acosta.

Acosta says Artigas “must necessarily be the city of amethysts in Uruguay,” which is why he established the “Safari Minero,” a guided tour to explore and learn about the mining agates and amethysts in the city.

“The land is barely conditioned for people to walk without issues, but the walls and stones that can be seen are natural, they were left there from when there was exploitation,” explains Acosta.

Elaine Vasconcellos, a project coordinator in charge of promoting gemstone tourism in Artigas, says that locals cannot differentiate between agate and amethyst sometimes.

The government is currently working on the construction of the Precious Stone Museum Cultural Center, which seeks to “show the local community and visitors the mining wealth of the city” and serve as a training center for stone artisans, according to Vasconcellos.

“We are preparing to work digitally in the coming years,” he says, noting that the museum is key in the process since it will have samples and a store to sell the products.

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