Montevideo at a Glance
What's so interesting with Montevideo?
Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay as well as of Montevideo department, is one of the great cities of South America. More than one-third of Uruguay's population lives in Montevideo, giving the city unique importance in relation to the country. This situation has led an occasional writer to refer to Uruguay, at least half seriously, as a "city-state." The city is incontestably the center of the state's political, cultural, commercial, and industrial life. Montevideo has a population of about 1,319,108 (2011).
Montevideo's advantageous location has contributed greatly to its importance. It is the chief port of Uruguay, with a well-protected harbor on the northern shore of the Río de la Plata (River Plate), 130 miles (220 km) east-southeast of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Montevideo is famous for its beaches, and a string of seaside resorts stretches eastward from the city to Punta del Este, on the Atlantic Ocean.
Montevideo is the hub of the country's rail and highway systems (which connect with Argentine and Brazilian networks) and the center of air and sea routes. The interior sends its ranch products—wool, meats, hides, and grain—to the city, where they are processed and exported, and also consumed locally. Imported articles, in turn, are distributed from Montevideo to points throughout Uruguay.
Major industries include slaughtering and meat-packing, flour-milling, and clothing and textile manufacture. There are oil refineries, cement works, and power plants. Montevideo has many public employees. Others work in transportation industries, including railway shops. The city is also a major fishing port. The neighboring beaches and resorts provide a significant portion of the national income.
Montevideo is a handsome, essentially modern city, with broad streets, spacious parks, and impressive structures, some old, but for the most part new. The oldest part of Montevideo (Ciudad Vieja, or Old City) occupies a short peninsula enclosing part of the harbor. With its narrow streets, the section retains a flavor of its colonial past. The Old City is the center of financial and commercial concerns. The heart of the district is Plaza Constitución, flanked by the cathedral (consecrated 1790) and the old city hall—one of the city's outstanding remaining examples of colonial architecture.
Modern Montevideo focuses on Plaza Independencia, east of the Old City. Here are the Executive Palace and other public buildings, hotels, and apartments. Major streets converge here. The Avenida 18 de Julio, a fashionable commercial artery on which is also located the National Library, extends from this square to Battle Park. Centenary Stadium, a huge sports arena, is situated at one end of the park. Branching northward from the Avenida 18 de Julio, the broad Avenida Agraciada leads to the massive Legislative Palace (1925), a building of marble and granite.
By tradition, the name of the city derives from an exclamation made by a Portuguese sailor when he sighted the 500-foot- (150-meter-) high cone across the bay: "Monte vide eu!" or "I see a hill!" Montevideo was founded in 1726 by Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, the Spanish governor of Buenos Aires, to forestall Portuguese colonization of the area. For the next century it continued to be an object of contention, first between Spain and Portugal and then between Argentina and Brazil. In 1807, British forces briefly occupied it.
After 1828, when Argentina and Brazil recognized Uruguay's independence, the city began to prosper. From 1843 to 1851, during the period of civil war, combined Argentine and Uruguayan Blanco forces besieged Montevideo, which was held by Uruguayan Colorados and their Brazilian allies. Subsequently Montevideo developed rapidly, from a city of about 58,000 in 1860 to some 164,000 in 1884, and its area extended to the northwest. The city's expansion was aided by the building of railroads into the interior and a speculative building boom.
The city's modern period of growth may be said to have begun in 1903, with the election of José Batlle y Ordóñez to the presidency. The country then entered a period of greater stability than it had previously known.
The Seventh International Conference of American States, held in Montevideo in 1933, was notable for its declaration, supported by the United States, that "no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another." A dramatic event in the city's modern history occurred in December 1939, during World War II, when the German battleship Graf Spee was scuttled outside the harbor.
After the mid-1960s, Montevideo was plagued by terrorist activities of the Tupamaros, Marxist urban guerrillas. A decade-long crackdown by the military began in 1973; it destroyed the guerrilla movement, but was accompanied by many abuses. Sporadic economic growth resumed in the mid-1980s.