article from December 1, 2011
by Julie R Butler
After fighting for independence from Spain, then fighting for independence from the Junta Grande of Buenos Aires, and then fighting for independence from the Empire of Brazil, Montevideo became the capital of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay in 1828. The fortified walls of the Old City were torn down and the New City was expanded into the barrio (neighborhood) now known as Centro. The going was slow, due to the civil war, during which Montevideo was under siege for eight years. It wasn’t until about 1853 when Montevideo finally began to flourish and grow, with the inauguration of the lovely Teatro Solís, after 15 years of construction, representing the hopes and dreams of this promising time.
The neighborhoods of Barrio Sur and Paloma became the home of many Afro-Uruguayans who were freed from slavery, evolving into an important cultural center for Carnival traditions such as Candombe rhythm and the musical theater of Murga, as well as Uruguayan Tango and other unique cultural treasures.
Aguada and Cordón were among the next barrios to be annexed to the New City. Although this region is filled with beautiful and amazing historical edifices, perhaps the most amazing institution is the colorful Sunday market on calle Tristán Narvaja, established in Cordón in 1870.
Beginning in second half of the 19th century and into the early 20th, Montevideo experienced a tremendous population boom of Europeans immigrants mainly from Spain and Italy but also many Central Europeans, and the city grew by leaps and bounds. New neighborhoods were added, large open spaces such as the Rodó, Prado, and Batlle parks, along with the Estadio Gran Parque Central and the Rambla running along the entire waterfront of Montevideo, were wisely engineered by city planners, greatly enhancing the outdoor environment of the city.
The growth spurt lasted through the two world wars, until stagnation hit in the 1950s, which lead to social problems and the dictatorship that lasted until 1985. The city was sadly neglected during this time; but after democracy was restored, the Uruguayans got to the task of rebuilding their beloved city.
Today, the rejuvenated Montevideo is a city of cafés and restaurants, artisans and antique dealers selling their wares at outdoor markets, fishermen and strollers enjoying an afternoon along the Rambla. The charming Old City and the neighborhoods around it continue to serve as the beating heart of the nation. Bohemian neighborhoods surround bustling universities, while mixed resident and shopping areas that stretch along the waterfront in popular locations such as Pocitos and Punta Carretas along with the more upscale Buceo and Carrasco barrios have a Mediterranean feel.
Throughout the city, the bus system is efficient and easy to use, nothing is all that far away, and the rate of hustle in Montevideo’s bustle is refreshingly laid-back.
[Photo by Jamie Douglas]
[Photo by Jamie Douglas]
Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler