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Postcard from Montevideo: Heritage Day in Uruguay

Postcard from Montevideo: Heritage Day in Uruguay Photo

Photo by Montevideana

Posted on November 2, 2007 in Trip Ideas

As IgoUgo Editorial Assistant Veronica Martinez shows us, Uruguay’s capital is particularly vibrant during Heritage Day celebrations. Veronica reveled in the weekend’s colorful history—and parades—and shares the cultural highlights of her hometown.

Every first weekend of October, Uruguay celebrates its Heritage Day. It’s a two-day celebration during which every museum, memorial, cemetery, etc., opens its doors to welcome visitors for free. There are also many, many shows regarding our heritage. It’s a very well-organized, family-oriented event that gives you the opportunity to remember and even live the history you learned about in your years at school.

Having done my homework some days before, I had my itinerary already planned. I only had to wait for it to stop pouring before thinking about the possibility of setting off.

I opened an eye on Sunday morning to realize it was sunny, so we jumped out of bed at 8am and took off on our motorbike to the Old City, where most of the action was going to take place.

We started our self-guided tour in the Plaza Independencia (Independence Square). This is a prominent feature of Montevideo; it is the city’s first and oldest square, designed in 1836. In the center, there is a monument to the hero Jose Gervasio Artigas, unveiled in February 1923, and under the monument is the mausoleum that has held his remains since June 1977. It was quite shocking to enter the mausoleum to find myself in a marble structure so nicely lighted. Every step forward was a step in Artiga’s history, and in our history, since the building is surrounded with the most important events of his life.

At the back of the square is the Solis Theatre, one of the most important cultural centers of South America. It was built with materials brought from many parts of the world, from Italian marble to Russian wood, and named in honor of Juan Dias de Solis, the Portuguese explorer who discovered the Rio de la Plata. Its opening performance was on August 25, 1856 (Independence Holiday). This is a proud national landmark. We were lucky; we got to know this amazing theatre, and we arrived just as a play was starting, so we relaxed on the excellently upholstered velvet chairs to delight ourselves in such an ancient building. I could easily imagine the theatre full of people in old costumes with binoculars, attending an opera. This stage has been honored by the presence of the most relevant artists in the world, including Antonio Toscanini, Enrico Caruso, Giacomo Puccini, and many more. It was just amazing to be part of it, even if just for a short visit and a play.

We then left the theatre to head to the El Cabildo (Town Council House). It was set up in 1730 by Mauricio de Zabala in a modest house made of stones with a leather roof. The building we know today was built between 1804 and 1810. It was here that our first constitution was implemented and where the legislative chambers held their meetings from 1830 to 1925. This is a place full of political history; it’s also where the first Uruguayan presidents took their oaths until they moved to El Palacio Legislativo in 1925.

Around the corner from the El Cabildo, on the pedestrian Sarandi Street, is the Torres Garcia Museum and workshop. I was sad to see it so packed with people that I was unable to explore it. Very disappointed, I took one of the Heritage Day buses and headed to the Torre de las Comunicaciones (Telecommunications Tower) to nose around. I was fascinated to see many of the murals made by Torres Garcia’s students displayed at the tower. I really enjoyed it, as well as the museum of telecommunication and the view of the city from the 26th floor of the tower.

When we were leaving the tower, we came across a parade of people dressed in typical old costumes, playing drums, full of colours and joy. Everyone joined the parade, dancing and following the rhythm of the drums. Exhausted after having walked for several hours, we finished the day by enjoying a delicious meal at the El Mercado del Puerto, one of Montevideo’s iconic dining spots.

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