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Visiting the historic Cerro fortress, Montevideo, Uruguay: the looming past, and fine views

Updated on November 5, 2015
Flag of Uruguay
Flag of Uruguay | Source
Montevideo's old Cerro fortress dominates the skyline.
Montevideo's old Cerro fortress dominates the skyline. | Source
Arms of Uruguay, with Montevideo's Cerro shown in the top right portion.
Arms of Uruguay, with Montevideo's Cerro shown in the top right portion. | Source
19th century civil war map of Uruguay, showing Cerro's location, left
19th century civil war map of Uruguay, showing Cerro's location, left | Source

Montevideans and visitors still see the hill...

As the Portuguese sailors approached the harbour of Montevideo, now Uruguay's capital, one of them is reputed to have cried, in his language: 'Monte vid'eu !' (I see a hill). Well, apparently the name stuck.

For centuries now, a fortress atop Montevideo's historic hill always referred to locally as 'El Cerro' has dominated the local skyline. In the wars leading to Uruguay's independence in 1828, the Cerro was a strategic location, as it sometimes was also in the intermittent civil war which beset Uruguay throughout much of the 19th century. Uruguay received many waves of immigration from Europe and the Cerro, with its fortress, would be one of the first sights that travellers would see of the country, on arrival via the port of Montevideo.

Originally a fort was built in 1717 atop the Cerro by the Portuguese, but when what is now Uruguay came into the hands of Spain, the fort was expanded. The Fortaleza General Artigas, as it is today called, is named for the Urguayan independence leader, and is now a museum.

The neighbouring port of Montevideo was expanded in the 19th century by President Juan Idiarte Borda and others.

I was glad to have been at the top of the Cerro, not least for the fine view across Montevideo harbour.

Depicted in coats of arms

Such is the profile — physically, and historically — of Montevideo's Cerro, with its fortress, that the Uruguayan national coat of arms depicts it in the upper right quarter.

The city of Montevideo, also, in its arms, displays an image of the Cerro very prominently.

Also worth seeing

Other of Montevideo's visitor attractions are too numerous to name here, but make sure you see Plaza Independencia (Independence Square), with the tall Palacio Salvo building, the statue and mausoleum of General Artigas the Ciudadela gate and the Palacio Estévez (former Presidential palace).

The Palacio Legislativo (Legislative Palace) is a most impressive building which dominates Avenida del Libertador .


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 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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