Getaways in Montevideo, Uruguay
The capital of the country sometimes called the “Switzerland of South America,” Montevideo is considered by many to be the most beautiful city on the continent. An excellent standard of living—estimated to be the highest in South America—coupled with a high literacy rate, low crime rate and temperate weather make this growing city an increasingly popular destination.
European discovery of this region dates back to 1516 with the arrival of Juan Diaz De Solis. It would be a century later before colonization began in the region and that was wrestled over by the Spanish and the Portuguese. Not until 1726 was the city founded by Bruno Mauricio de Zabala; it was given the full name San Felipe y Santiago de Montevideo.
The origin of the name Montevideo remains open to speculation. Some believe it comes from the Portuguese term "Monte vide eu" or "I see a mountain” while others think it was Galician sailor who sighted the peak with a cry of “Monte vi eu.” Others theorize the name is derived from a phrase on a Spanish map-- "Monte VI De Este a Oeste" (the sixth mountain from east to west).
Through the years the city grew as many European immigrants made this their new home. Today Montevideo, which includes nearly half of Uruguay’s population, remains home to many residents of Italian and Spanish descent.
For most visitors, a focal point of the city is the scenic Plaza Cagancha, also called Plaza Libertad. It lies on Avenida 18 de Julio which is named for the day when Uruguay shed the rule of Argentina and Brazil. Here visitors and residents alike watch the activity of daily city life from the comfort of benches beneath tall palms.
A few blocks away lies the city’s main plaza, Plaza Independencia. Here stands a statue of patriot and independence fighter General José Gervasio Artigas who lies buried beneath the square.
This square is also home to the Teatro Solís, a replica of the Madrid’s Maria Guerrero Theatre. Built in 1857, this is Uruguay’s oldest theater and today, following a recent renovation, it is the site of many of Montevideo’s cultural events. Nearby stands the landmark building the Palacio Salvo, which soars 26 stories and, when completed in 1925, was the tallest building in South America. Another historic site is the Estévez Palace, the oldest of three working palaces used by the president of Uruguay; it dates back to 1873.
One of the oldest attractions on this plaza is the Gateway of The Citadel. This is the last remaining portion of a wall that once surrounded Old Town; the rest of the fortification was torn down in 1829.
Walking through the Gateway marks the entrance into Old Town, an area where narrow streets are lined with colonial style buildings. The focal point of Old Town is the Plaza Constitution, home of the old town hall, a cathedral, and a museum tracing the history of this charming city.
Back at the waterfront stands one of Montevideo’s liveliest attractions: the Mercado del Puerto. This old port building dates back to the 1860s; today it bustles with diners, shoppers, street musicians, tango dancers, and artists, almost a symbol of this vibrant capital.