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Visiting the Custom House, Villa Soriano, Uruguay: the cry of historic sovereignty projected across waters to friends!

Updated on February 10, 2016
Flag of Uruguay
Flag of Uruguay | Source
Frontage of the Custom House, Villa Soriano
Frontage of the Custom House, Villa Soriano | Source
The former Hotel Olivera after restoration.
The former Hotel Olivera after restoration. | Source

Hear the cry across two centuries!

This fine building in Villa Soriano, situated in Uruguay's Mercedes department, dates from 1860.

So, why the intriguing title?

Well, all the elements in the title are here at this building in this, Uruguay's oldest surviving European settlement.

The building — formerly the Hotel Olivera (1) — serves as a Custom House: the authority to levy dues on goods entering the national territory is among the most poignant of sovereignty symbols.

The locality has associations with the national liberator, General José Gervasio Artigas. The Department of Soriano at Agraciada Beach — south of Villa Soriano — is the much remembered site of the landing of the Thirty Three (Spanish: Treinta y Tres) patriots in 1825.

These patriots are noted for having crossed from the Entre Ríos province of Argnetina on the other side of the Uruguay River from what is now Soriano Department. The flag of don José is also almost identical with the provincial flag of Entre Ríos.

And so the local geography is bound up with Uruguayan memories of events in the early 19th century; when popular support for the independence of Uruguay (previously called la Banda Oriental - the Eastern Shore) and of neighbouring Argentina was strong.

Interestingly, over 200 yachts and vessels are expected on an annual basis at Villa Soriano, giving rise to the function of the Custom House. The restored quayside stands nearby; Villa Soriano is located near the confluence of the Negro and Uruguay Rivers.

And the reference to the 'cry'? Well, the motto of Villa Soriano is Oiremos el clamor de la patria (roughly translated: 'We shall hear the cry of the fatherland'): in the early 19th century, the local inhabitants of both sides of the Uruguay River were engaged in a similar enterprise.

So when many Argentinians visit Villa Soriano, it recalls, at least symbolically, an historic partnership between the two peoples, played out in the 19th century; hence the reference to 'friends' in the title.

The former Hotel Olivera was refurbished in recent years and today, in addition to its rôle as a Custom House, it also houses offices of the Uruguayan navy and acts as a centre for visitor information.

Among its crowning features is its series of elegant, Syrian arches at its frontage, six in all; the main entrance is square-shaped.

The building is situated at the intersection of Cabildo and La Costanera streets.

Yes, I made up the title! but I think it does reflect some local themes and realities, bound up with this building and location.

February 10, 2016


(1) The existence of a hotel, for which this fine building formerly served, recalls that at the beginning of this 20th century the population of Villa Soriano (formerly known as Santo Domingo de Soriano) was over 6,000; today, it has shrunk to barely a fifth of this.

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 old Chapel of Santo Domingo and the Casa de los Marfetán, said to be the oldest existing building in the village, now a museum.


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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