Visiting Santiago Vázquez, Montevideo, Uruguay, and its iron bridge over the Santa Lucía River: territorially complex
Named for distinguished patriot Santiago Vázquez (1787-1847)
The village of Santiago Vázquez — sometimes known as Barra Santa Lucía — is located on the eastern bank of the Santa Lucía River. In terms of territorial and historical psychologies, it is in an interesting situation. Over the river from the San José Department, It lies within the Department of Montevideo, but is actually a country village, the most isolated settlement within Uruguay's capital — its built up area is not geographically contiguous with the urban part of Montevideo. Until the building of its iron bridge in 1925, the physical separation of Montevideo from San José Department served to emphasize the relative remoteness from Montevideo of a sizable area of south-western Uruguay.
The name of this small town is very interesting also. Its naming for an early Uruguayan government minister and framer of the Uruguayan Constitution Santiago Vázquez (1787-1847) seems to exemplify more generally the complexities of Uruguay's internal and external relations. Both in addition to fighting Brazilian forces — alongside Argentinian troops — during Uruguay's Independence period, and to his association with the drawing up of the country's Constitution, Santiago Vázquez is also known for having served as Uruguay's foreign minister in periods of office in the 1830s. He was also active in Uruguay's long civil war (during which neighbouring Argentina and Brazil sought at various times to influence events). His life thus illustrates the complexity of Uruguay's internal and historical dynamics.
In the course of the 19th century, even beyond the periods of the intermittent civil war, which lasted for a number of decades, the writ of the central government in Montevideo at times hardly extended to sizable areas of the country. Even for what is regarded as a small country in Latin American terms, remoteness from Montevideo often served as a key to the unfolding of events. In the history of Uruguay and the Banda Oriental territory of colonial times, various cities and towns, such as Montevideo, Colonia and Paysandú, were besieged by hostile shipping in the Rivers Plate and Uruguay, and the peninsular character of south-western Montevideo was only more pronounced before the iron bridge was built at Santiago Vázquez. After the Battle of Masoller in 1904, the long civil war came to an end, and the Colorado party consolidated its hold on the country, in lengthy periods of government.
One of the pressing tasks for the Colorado administrations, of which leaders the best known was José Battle y Ordóñez (1856-1929), was to strengthen the infrastructure of the country and to try to ensure that the remoteness of many of the regions of the interior did not have negative effects on what the government strongly perceived as its centralizing mission. (In this, the Colorado administrations particularly took the French Third Republic as a model.) A bridge, linking the banks of the Santa Lucía River near its confluence with the River Plate began to take on an increasing priority; this would serve to link Montevideo with the more populated areas of coastal south-eastern Uruguay. Plans for such a bridge were drawn up by engineer Federico Capurro during the 1907-1911 administration of President Claudio Wílliman (1861-1934)(1). After various setbacks, the bridge, executed in iron, was completed in 1925.
The iron bridge is now a Uruguayan Monument (2). In recent years a second bridge has been built to ease the traffic flow.
The estuarine environment near Santiago Vázquez and its bridges has been designated as a protected wetland. The locality is susceptible to mist and fog and I have crossed the iron bridge over the Santa Lucía at Santiago Vázquez on a foggy night when visibility has been limited; one can well imagine how in the 19th century such conditions would only serve to strengthen the sense of isolation of Montevideo from the interior of the country.
September 1, 2015
(1) See also (in Spanish): http://cdf.montevideo.gub.uy/fotografias/pueblo-santiago-vazquez#
(2) An almost identical bridge to the iron structure at Santiago Vázquez was built at Piedra Alta, Florida, where the country's basic laws were decided by local patriots in 1825, and is regularly a backdrop to patriotic ceremonies held there.
Also worth seeing
At Santiago Vázquez, a marina attracts many yacht and pleasure boats. A local park commemorates the Second Spanish Republic.
Closer to the Downtown area of Montevideo, visitor attractions include: the Cerro Fortress; the Salvo Palace; the Independence Building (Spanish: Edificio Independencia ; formerly the Estévez Palace); the Legislative Palace (Spanish: Palacio Legislativo ); the Matriz church, or Cathedral; the University of the Republic's main building on Avenida 18 de julio ; and many others.
How to get there: LanChile flies to Montevideo, Uruguay from North American destinations including New York and Toronto . 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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