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Visiting the Dragones Barracks, Maldonado, Uruguay: Poignant Associations With General Artigas in 1797

Updated on November 16, 2017
Flag of Uruguay
Flag of Uruguay | Source
Former Dragones Barracks, Maldonado
Former Dragones Barracks, Maldonado | Source

Remembering the beloved - and nuanced - founder of Uruguayan nationality

General José Gervasio Artigas (1764-1850) is honoured as Uruguay's main Independence-era leader and is regarded as the founder of Uruguayan nationality.

At the intersection of 25 de mayo and 18 de julio streets in the city of Maldonado, in the south-east of the country, the Dragones Barracks is a stone edifice with strong, historical associations with General Artigas. The building dates from the late-18th century; it is here that José Gervasio Artigas joined what is sometimes known as the Blandengues regiment in 1797. (This same regiment still exists, and is responsible for the honour guard at the Artigas Mausoleum in Plaza Independencia, Montevideo.)

The surviving part of the building consists of an elongated, single storey executed in stone, with vivid orange roof tiles. A central courtyard is sometimes used for historical reenactments; when I visited, an actor dressed as General Artigas observed others wearing costumes in styles dating from 200 years ago. A statue of General Artigas overlooks the courtyard; the statue was unveiled in 1977 under the civilian-military administration of President Aparicio Méndez.

The structure, built by Bartolomé Howel and Rafael Pérez del Puerto, is recorded as having been commenced in 1771 and completed in 1797 (1). At one time, 600 soldiers loyal to the Spanish crown were said to have been stationed at the barracks.

And so Uruguayans remember General José Gervasio Artigas as having both joined the Blandengues regiment here at the barracks, and as having broken with the Spanish authorities. Identified also with General Artigas is a measure of revolutionary discourse and writings on civic subjects which still resonate today.

A revolutionary radical, then?

In a manner of speaking, yes. But it must also be remembered that the context of the times, when examined closely, shows a number of factors which reveal that Artigas's radicalism was actually rather nuanced.

Artigas was at first strongly identified with the merchant classes of Buenos Aires; he was also fairly close to the rural landowning classes of the Banda Oriental, as what after Independence became Uruguay was known (2).

It must also be recalled that the writ of the King of Spain was rather weak in Latin America in any case in the Napoleonic period, when the French Emperor deposed the Spanish monarchy: as a result, the merchant and landowning classes of Buenos Aires and the Banda Oriental effectively joined forces to conserve their way of life independently of Madrid; and General José Gervasio Artigas emerged as the leading figure in the Banda Oriental and is today credited as the founder of Uruguayan nationality; his inspiring writings are still followed avidly today.

For a number of years before Uruguayan independence, however, the Banda Oriental was controlled by newly independent Brazil; and Artigas himself was already in exile by the time the Republic was founded in 1828; he lived until 1850.

Insofar as General Artigas was a respected military figure, and to some extent identified with merchant and landowning classes who wished to preserve a measure of prosperity during troubled times when the King of Spain's influence was greatly waning in any case, some observers would regard him today as having been some kind of conservative figure, albeit one who led his people with sometimes radical and inspiring speeches appreciated to this day. Others would look to the radical aspects of his discourse in a bid to find contemporary relevance.

Today, the barracks constitute a museum, regularly frequented by students, dedicated to the historical memory of General Artigas and the civic virtues which he taught Uruguayans.

November 16, 2017


(1) See also (in Spanish) : ;

(2) What had been known as the Banda Oriental del Uruguay became after 1828 the República Oriental del Uruguay.

Former Dragones barracks, Maldonado
Former Dragones barracks, Maldonado | Source

Also worth seeing

In the city of Maldonado itself, and situated close to the Dragones barracks, San Fernando Cathedral dominates the Downtown area (see background of the photo, above); the Mazzoni Museum traces more of the city's historical heritage; Punta del Este , within the Maldonado city limits, is a popular resort in a scenic, peninsular location; to the east, across the bay from Punta del Este is Punta Ballena , a noted whale-watching spot. A visit to the city of Maldonado can be combined with a day trip to Punta del Este from Montevideo, if the traveller is not staying in the immediate area.


How to get there: LaTam flies to Montevideo, Uruguay from North American destinations which include New York and Toronto . Car rental is available at Montevideo Carrasco International airport. Mainly seasonal flights from Buenos Aires also operate to Laguna del Sauce International Airport (which principally serves the Punta del Este area), where car rental is also available. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

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

Map location of Maldonado department, Uruguay
Map location of Maldonado department, Uruguay | Source


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