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Visiting Matriz Square, Montevideo, Uruguay: lushly herbaceous, heavy with historical presence

Updated on September 26, 2012
Flag of Uruguay
Flag of Uruguay | Source
Fountain in Matriz Square, Montevideo
Fountain in Matriz Square, Montevideo | Source
Matriz Square (Constitution Square), in the Old City, Montevideo, Uruguay
Matriz Square (Constitution Square), in the Old City, Montevideo, Uruguay | Source
Juan Idiarte Borda in 1895
Juan Idiarte Borda in 1895 | Source
Map location of Montevideo, Uruguay
Map location of Montevideo, Uruguay | Source

An early Constitution; and the assassination of a President

Known either as Matriz Square (Spanish: Plaza Matriz ) or Constitution Square (Spanish: Plaza Constitución ), this public area in the Old City (Spanish: Ciudad Vieja ) of Montevideo, Uruguay, is heavy with historical allusion.

But first some features. Thickly planted with mature trees — including various sturdy plane (Spanish: plátano ) trees — it lies adjacent to the Metropolitan Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral Metropolitano ), sometimes referred to as the Matriz Church (Spanish: Iglesia Matriz ) — hence the association between the names of the Church and the Square respectively.

In the Square stands an ornamental fountain, dating from 1871, by Italian architect Juan Ferrari. The building of this three-tier fountain coincided with the inauguration of fresh water supplies to the city.

The Square also has historical plaques with old photographs of past views of it.

Matriz Square has witnessed a number of historic events and periods in Uruguay's history. Another building facing the Square is the Cabildo, which was the seat of Spanish Colonial administration. In 1812, when Spain's capital, Madrid, was under French occupation, it was here that a remarkable event occurred: a Constitution for the Spanish people — situated in whatever Continent — was promulgated. This event stands at the origin of one of the Square's names: Constitution Square (1).

On August 25, 1897 the vicinity of the Square witnessed a seminal and unique event in Uruguayan history: the assassination of a President of Uruguay. After leaving a service at the Matriz Church, President Juan Idiarte Borda (b. 1844) was shot to death by Avelino Arredondo, who was later convicted of the crime (2). While Uruguay has seen a number of technically unconstitutional changes of government in its approaching 200 years of independence, there has not been any other instance of a sitting President being assassinated.

September 18, 2012

Notes

(1) The actual Constitution of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (Spanish: República Oriental del Uruguay ) dates from 1830; the Obelisk of Montevideo is the monument which officially commemorates the country's Constitution as an independent nation.

(2) Events surrounding this crime are still somewhat shrouded in mystery. Arredondo was a known supporter of José Batlle y Ordoñez (1856-1929), who later served terms as President, although Mr. Batlle himself avoided incrimination with the event. After serving only a relatively few years in jail, Arredondo was released. Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote variously about events surrounding Uruguay's intermittent Civil War, ending at the Battle of Masoller in 1904 and about the actions of Arredondo. (He also notably described history as what people wish to remember and forget.) Interestingly, President Borda's residence, the Castillo Borda in Montevideo, has been restored in recent years.

Also worth seeing

Among Montevideo 's numerous visitor attractions are: the Salvo Palace; the Independence Building facing Plaza Independencia; the Gateway to the Citadel (Spanish: Ciudadela ); the Artigas Mausoleum; the Legislative Palace; the main building of the University of the Republic (UdelaR); the Obelisk; the Cerro Fortresss; and many others.

How to get there: LanChile flies to Montevideo , Uruguay from North American destinations including New York and Toronto . The Uruguayan airline PLUNA, which codeshares with VARIG, flies to a number of Latin American regional destinations. Car rental is available at Montevideo Carrasco International airport. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

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

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