Visiting Villa Soriano's Quayside, Uruguay: peaceful fuvial and psychological frontiers and historical navigation

Flag of Uruguay
Flag of Uruguay | Source
The Quayside, Villa Soriano
The Quayside, Villa Soriano | Source
The Quayside, Villa Soriano
The Quayside, Villa Soriano | Source

Sail on, history!

The peaceful, village Quayside (Spanish: Muelle) at Uruguay's Villa Soriano seems on the surface not to have much going on there; but a century ago the population of Villa Soriano was several times greater than it is today. Two centuries ago it went through among the most turbulent period of its history (which began in 1624, Uruguay's oldest, surviving European settlement).

As realtors say, location, location, location. It is on the water — the Negro River, to be precise — close to that river's confluence with the Uruguay River, for which the country was named (1). In Uruguayan history, it was first of all VIlla Soriano's proximity to water which made it so susceptible to settlement from what is now Argentina. During the Independence period, at a time when Spanish troops were firmly ensconced in the Citadel of Montevideo, Patriotic forces based on what is now the Argentinian side of the Uruguay could move across the Uruguay in small boats with relative ease; in 1811, at the time of what is now known as the Uruguayan Revolution led by General José Gervasio Artigas, a decisive battle was fought in the vicinity of Villa Soriano against Spanish troops which relatively lacked the maneuverability and freedom of movement over the Uruguay River.

Along the bank of the Uruguay in Soriano Department is Agraciada Beach (Spanish: Playa de la Agraciada), where in 1825 Thirty Three (Spanish: Treinta y Tres) patriots landed from Argentina and are credited with definitively liberating the national territory from Brazilian rule. Again, it was the ease of river communication with the other side of the Uruguay River that proved pivotal in these events leading to securing the country's independence.

Interestingly also, during the Civil War period of Uruguay's post-Independence history, it was the agility of small boats with relatively little hull displacement that made them manoeuvrable; the Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi particularly distinguished himself as an admiral in the Uruguayan navy: a fact relatively little known about this otherwise famous figure of history.

Thus Villa Soriano's Quayside — refurbished in recent years, and used by a variety of small vessels, from traditional rowing boats to pleasure cruisers — is far more than a recent leisure feature. It is expressive of Uruguay's independence history and of the way that local patriots maintained a mastery of fluvial channels in the wider area.

Villa Soriano's Quayside also reminds me of a short story El Descubrimiento (The Discovery)(2) in Spanish, written by the Uruguayan writer Jesús Moraes, of Bella Unión, which lies further north up the Uruguay River. In this short work the protagonist Dalmacio discovers an ancient arc in the local river port; the vessel's existence is denied by both a local priest and by a naval commander. Dalmacio returns to the vessel, and an admiral emerges and invites Dalmacio to join him on the arc, which then sails away and Dalmacio, the admiral and the vessel are not seen again. Deeper meanings to this superficially fantastic story may include the relevance of interlaced versions of history, denied by vested interests for their various own reasons. In real life, famous personalities such as Uruguayan Independence leader General José Gervasio Artigas and Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi really did have historical associations with the Uruguay River and functioned at certain times of their life as admirals over fleets of vessels which wielded great influence in their time. It is known also that, centuries ago, local indigenous people built huge canoes, which presupposes a considerable knowledge of craft and navigation skills.

August 11, 2015

Notes

(1) Prior to Independence, the territory was known as the Banda Oriental, i.e., the Eastern Bank.

(2) Jesús Moraes, El Descubrimiento. The title of the short story, discussed above, is also that of the compilation of stories of the same name. Some of Moraes's work has been translated into Portuguese.

Map location of Soriano Deparment, Uruguay
Map location of Soriano Deparment, Uruguay | Source

Also worth seeing

In Villa Soriano itself, other noteworthy features include the old Chapel of Santo Domingo and the Casa de los Marfetán, said to be the oldest existing building in the village, now a museum.

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How to get there: LanChile flies to Montevideo's Carrasco International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional de Carrasco) Uruguay from North American destinations including New York and Toronto. Villa Soriano lies 45 kilometres from the departmental capital Mercedes, itself 278 kilometres from Montevideo. By road, the village lies on Ruta 96. Car rental is available at Montevideo Carrasco airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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