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Visiting Villa Soriano, Uruguay and the Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano: strong historical vibrations

Updated on August 5, 2015
Flag of Uruguay
Flag of Uruguay | Source
Old chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano
Old chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano | Source
Bell-tower, Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano
Bell-tower, Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano | Source
Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano adjoining the Square
Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano adjoining the Square | Source
José Gervasio Artigas, drawing by Juan Manuel Blanes
José Gervasio Artigas, drawing by Juan Manuel Blanes | Source
Flag of Soriano Department
Flag of Soriano Department | Source

"Here the fatherland was born"

As the former holder of an Uruguayan ID, I was privileged to visit Villa Soriano (1), in Uruguay's Soriano department, known as the country's oldest European settlement. At various times in the village's history, it has been called both Villa Soriano, or simply Soriano, or Santo Domingo de Soriano.

The latter designation is of course tied with the chapel which is among the village's principal landmarks.

Adjoining the Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano is a public square in honour Uruguay's principal Independence era leader, General José Gervasio Artigas (1764-1850). By designation of General Artigas, Santo Domingo de Soriano / Villa Soriano served as the capital of the Department of Soriano until 1857. The village has strong associations with the activities of General Artigas and his patriotic followers during the Independence era; a notable battle occurred in 1811 at Villa Soriano between troops of the Spanish Viceroy and patriotic forces.

So it would seem on the surface that the whole history of the settlement built up around the Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano revolves around significant historical events of Soriano department.

Except that this is not the case, with respect to the settlement's early history. The Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano found its origins in a settlement of the Franciscan Order dating from 1624 (thus older than Colonia, an Uruguayan town noted for its many old buildings). This settlement was actually situated — albeit not very far from its present site — on Vizcaíno Island (now in the Río Negro department) over the Río Negro from Villa Soriano. Originally the settlement was in character by the way of a mission sponsored by the Order among indigenous inhabitants of the territory, formerly known as the Banda Oriental.

Santo Domingo de Soriano is located near the confluence of the Negro and Uruguay rivers, and the present position of the village around the Chapel dates from 1708; neighbouring Argentina lies over the Uruguay river. In 1802, towards the end of the colonial era, the King of Spain designated the settlement 'Villa', which identified it as European, as opposed to indigenous, in character (2).

The design of the Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano is in typical Colonial style, with strong Classical elements, including a broken pediment and solid walls and tower.

The 20th and 21st centuries have seen a considerable decline in the number of the parishioners of the Chapel of Santo Domingo de Soriano, not merely because of secularizing influences which have affected Uruguay, but also because the population of Villa Soriano - at over 6000 at the beginning of the 20th century — has declined to about 1100 today.

The departmental flag of Soriano bears the Spanish motto: 'AQUI NACIO LA PATRIA' (Here the fatherland was born) and in no small measure Villa Soriano's historical associations have contributed to the significance of these words.

August 5, 2015


(1) See also the following site for tourist information (in Spanish) :

(2) Few of the former Banda Oriental's indigenous inhabitants (these included the Charrúa, Chaná and Guaraní peoples) survived into Uruguay's post-Independence era. The former presence in Uruguay of indigenous people is still recalled in various ways, including in place-names and in the existence of rock art, the most striking example of which is a site at Chamangá, in Flores department.

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 Casa de los Marfetán, said to be the oldest existing building in the village, now a museum; and the quayside (Spanish: muelle) at the Negro river.


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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