There is some mystery as to the first time the Monkey visited Uruguay. It seems likely the Monkey would have visited Uruguay during his late-1990s residency in neighboring Argentina, but no photographic evidence of such a visit has turned up. At any rate, in April of 2004, El Mono sailed into the port of Montevideo and so began his first documented trip to this small, South American country.
Montevideo dates from the later stages of Spain and Portugal’s imperial contest on the South American landmass. It was the Portuguese who, in 1717, first built a fort in the environs of Montevideo, which was located across the mouth of the Río de la Plata from the Spanish port of Buenos Aires. Worried by the Portuguese presence at such a strategic site, the Spanish raided and captured the fort in 1724, and then set about building a full-fledged settlement there in the hopes of cementing their claim. That settlement developed into Montevideo, which became the capital of Uruguay when independence was established in 1828.
Montevideo has grown to take a position of national dominance rarely seen in other countries of the world. Already Uruguay’s capital, chief port and trade center, Montevideo also dominates the country’s cultural life, hosting many of the nation’s museums, theaters, universities, and sports teams. In fact, greater Montevideo is home to fully half of the country’s 3.4 million people. That said, much of Montevideo retains a sort of sleepy character, at least away from the bustle of a few key streets.
In this shot, the Monkey visits Montevideo’s Cabildo (City Hall), which houses a collection of civic and national historic artifacts.
On a bright, sunny day, the Monkey lounges in Montevideo’s center point, the Plaza Independencia. Behind him, at left beyond the palm trees, is the start of the city’s main thoroughfare, Avenida 18 de Julio. And then there’s the Palacio Salvo, Montevideo’s signature building. Easily one of the most eye-catching structures in the world, the style-mixing skyscraper was designed by Mario Palanti (who also built the smaller but similar Palacio Barolo in Buenos Aires) for the affluent Salvo family.
At 95 meters and 27 storeys, the Palacio Salvo assumed the mantle of tallest building in South America upon completion in 1928 (it has since been outdone by other structures elsewhere). The Palacio Salvo was a symbol of Uruguay’s economic miracle of the 1920s, when, like neighboring Argentina, it was one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Construction materials included German granite, Italian marble, and oak from the Caucuses. Originally planned as a hotel complex, the Palacio Salvo became a preferred residence for intellectuals and business elites. Though it has suffered with the economic ups and downs of the country, the Palacio Salvo is currently being restored and it remains an emblem of Montevideo.
Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja (Old City) is a charming neighborhood at the tip of the peninsula on which the city was built. While run-down in places, the barrio is home to many historic buildings including the conventillo tenements that once housed the city’s newly-arrived immigrants and now are home to some of the city’s poor.
Anyone who wanders through Ciudad Vieja’s narrow streets will most likely come across Plaza Zabala, a quiet, tree-lined expanse focused on a monument to Montevideo’s founder, the Spaniard Bruno Mauricio de Zabala. Named in his honor, Plaza Zabala was laid out in 1890 and quickly became a favorite space for Montevideans to stroll, chat, and relax. Today, despite the city’s growth away from the historic center, Plaza Zabala remains a meeting place of Montevideans, from bankers to the homeless and everyone between, who enjoy the park as a refuge from the roar and fumes of the city’s traffic. Here, the Monkey reposes in front of an abandoned old building fronting Plaza Zabala.
On a short street leading off Plaza Zabala, the Monkey paused to take in the beautiful Beaux-Arts architecture of Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja. He was headed for the Museo de Arte Decorativo, just down the street, but it was closing as he arrived…
Not far from here is Montevideo’s port, which helped propel the city and the country’s growth. And while Montevideo is less renowned than its “big sister” Buenos Aires for its role in the development of the tango, aficionados know the tango was born in the working-class brothels of both these port cities.
The Monkey inspects a cool spiral staircase in Montevideo’s Cabildo.
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