El Mono’s exploration of Montevideo coincided with some rain clouds, but it wasn’t enough to dampen his spirits in these photos from 2004.
Montevideo is a city blessed by water. Even its founding—purportedly based on a sea-weary Galician sailor’s cry of “Monte vi eu!” or “I saw a mountain”—derives from the city’s seaside location. The purported mountain spotted by the sailor was little more than a hill, but the name stuck, modulating to Montevideo over time.
At any rate, Montevideo has a special relation with water, sitting as it does on a narrow peninsula at the meeting point of the mammoth Río de la Plata and the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, while the city’s harbor benefits from the calm waters of the River Plate, the city’s growth meant it encompassed significant Atlantic Ocean frontage. Here, the Monkey inspects the beach at Pocitos, one of Montevideo’s more established ocean-front neighborhoods (bear in mind this photo was taken on an off-season, rainy day in autumn!). Pocitos, with its long stretch of sand and high-rise apartment blocks, resembles the more famous crescent beach of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, some 1900 kilometers up the coast in Brasil. And like the beaches of Rio, those of Montevideo feature “sand soccer’ goals ready for the beach football fanatics.
The Monkey enjoys a temporary lull in the traffic of Montevideo’s downtown streets. The pretty buildings of the cramped downtown area near the Old City house government ministries, financial firms, offices, shops, restaurants, and residences. Weekdays, the place is pulsing with Montevideans and many, many buses.
The Monkey visits Montevideo’s seafront Museo Naval (Navy Museum), notable for its raised relics of the scuttled Nazi German warship the Graf Spee. The Graf Spee had been assigned to intercept Allied merchant ships in the South Atlantic, a mission it undertook with considerable success, sinking at least 9 British vessels in just four months of 1939. Then, on 13 December 1939, the Graf Spee ran into a squadron of British Naval ships just off the coast of Montevideo and the Battle of the River Plate ensued. While damaging three British warships, the Graf Spee sustained heavy damage and had to limp into neutral Montevideo’s harbor for repairs. Unable to complete the repairs in the allotted time, the Graf Spee moved out into the River Plate where the captain ordered it scuttled in the shallow water; the crew was then interned in Argentina. There are ongoing plans to raise the Graf Spee.
Another view of the Monkey on Montevideo’s Plaza Independencia. At right is the towering Palacio Salvo (see this post) and at left is the statue of Uruguay’s national independence hero, José Gervasio Artigas. In Uruguay’s complex history, Artigas stands out for his determination to see the Banda Oriental (modern Uruguay) as well as other regions emerge from Spain’s over-grandiose Viceroyalty of the River Plate colony as federal republics. Artigas fought the Spanish, centralist Buenos Aires-leaning factions in the Banda Oriental, and the Portuguese over several years, establishing a free Banda Oriental “republiqueta” (little republic) just briefly in the process. Driven into exile in Paraguay, he died in 1850, by which point many had come to realize his positions were ahead of their time. The general’s mausoleum is below the monument.
The Monkey stops to admire the beauty of Montevideo’s streets on a rainy austral autumn day in April—and the beauty of the uruguaya racing past.
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