Some guide books sum up things to do in Uruguay in a week or at the most two weeks. It’s a small country with a population of just 3 million and the capital Montevideo has 1.3 milllion, making it about the same size as Adelaide.
Having spent 9 days in Montevideo we have found that there are an amazing number of small free museums, book shops to browse and many, many cafes to frequent along with the usual larger iconic buildings.
Montevideo has an eclectic range of architectural styles. 19th Century Neoclassical buildings in various states of repair attesting to a wealthier time during the beef & agricultural boom of the early part of the 20th century. There are many state funded free museums. For the non-Spanish speaking traveller, these displays are interesting but not as informative.
We visited the 1802 neoclassical Casa Rivera in the old part of town. This once grand old home is now houses part of a national historical collection. The paintings on display are mainly portraits of significant men in Uruguay’s turbulent history and some large panoramic paintings depicting events in Montevideo in the 18th century. Also significant in the collection at Casa Rivera are the weapons and a small collection of indigenous artefacts. The weapons, mainly guns and swords, visually tell of a history of fighting and war. As the building is under renovation we have no photos of this.
We have enjoyed the tours of the stunning Legislative Palace(Parliament), the beautiful Theatro Solis and also Palacio Salvo.
The Legislative Palace was designed by a series of 3 Italian architects and was completed in 1925 to celebrate Uruguay’s 100 years of independence from Brazil. It took 17 years to build and it is evident that Uruguay was a very wealthy* country during the time of construction. It features 52 colours of Uruguayan marble skillfully crafted into a beautifully designed, ornate building. The photos really cannot capture the grandeur of craftsmanship, but might give you an idea. The Parliamentary Library is particularly significant due to the spectacular timber interior – in contrast to the marble elsewhere in the building.(Bibliophiles please note that there is a dedicated booklovers post under development)
The Theatro Solis was completed and opened in 1856 and was one of the first major buildings completed within the city. The main theatre is horseshoe shaped. It too was designed by Italian architects. Italian marble features in the Theatro Solis and the theatre is home to 3 very large crystal chandeliers featuring French crystals. The largest of the chandeliers weighs a tonne!
We also toured a private building, Palacio Salvo. Built by the Salvo family in 1920s as a luxury hotel, it is now an apartment building. Ornate multi-colour terrazzo floors featuring the symbol for infinity, circles and the fleur-de-lys are a testament to the artisans of the time. Views from the top of this building were towards the Rio de la Plata. Palacio Salvo is significant on the downtown Montevideo skyline. Its eclectic blend of French, Italian and Indian architectural styles make it a unique, not always loved building.
*Uruguay became very wealthy during World War 1 when it provided beef, wood, fruit and vegetables to many European countries where the war effort was reducing the volume of supplies in primary industries.