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Visiting the Gateway of the Citadel, Montevideo, Uruguay: recalling the Colonial-to-Independence-Era transition

Updated on September 4, 2013
Flag of Uruguay
Flag of Uruguay | Source
Gateway to the old fortified city, Montevideo
Gateway to the old fortified city, Montevideo | Source
Artigas at the Gateway
Artigas at the Gateway | Source
Gateway to the Citadel, Montevideo
Gateway to the Citadel, Montevideo | Source
Map location of Montevideo, Uruguay
Map location of Montevideo, Uruguay | Source

A metaphorical window from the past linking with the beloved don José

In Downtown Montevideo, Uruguay is an historic structure, the Gateway to the Citadel (Spanish: Puerta de la Ciudadela ). In Spanish, this phrase is often simply contracted to Ciudadela, although strictly this refers to the former fortified Old Town (Ciudad Vieja ) as a whole, rather than to the Gateway only.

The Old City was originally within the defence walls erected by the Spanish Colonialist forces in the 18th century. Montevideo was founded in 1724. The most significant remains of the Old City's defensive walls consist of the Gateway. This structure consists of twin pillars and a pediment with walling which serves as backing.

Particularly after Uruguayan Independence, Montevideo expanded eastwards from the Old City area. It is therefore possible to see the local built environment as reflecting a spacial and also psychological transition from Colonial times to the post-Independence era.

Interestingly, the personality of the principal Independence leader, General José Gervasio Artigas (1764-1850) looms large in any understanding of that era. Don José originally served in a Colonial regiment, but later took on the cause of Independence for the peoples of the River Plate. The Gateway opens onto Independence Square (Spanish: Plaza Independencia), the centrepiece of which is an equestrian statue of don José , with the entrance to his Mausoleum beneath.

A famous picture of don José standing at the Gateway is thus very evocative to Uruguayans. This is because it symbolizes the way the country's principal Independence Era leader led them from Spanish Colonial rule (strongly identified with the formerly fortified Old City) to the dignity of citizens of an independent Republic, eventually achieved when don José was in exile. There is thus a sense in which don José himself symbolizes a gateway to Independence.

Remembering as I do the many times I passed by the Ciudadela , my imagination rests in the idea that it would not be too surprising if don José Gervasio Artigas were quietly to appear, standing at one of its pillars. Imagination, certainly; but among Uruguay's citizens the idea of a civic watchfulness for the common good of an independent people is a resurgent leitmotif which the memory of the beloved don José — so often remembered from the portrait of him standing at the Ciudadela — may be said to invigorate.

July 3, 2012

Also worth seeing

In Montevideo itself numerous visitor attractions include: the Independence Building facing Plaza Independencia; the Artigas Mausoleum; the Salvo Palace; the Legislative Palace; the main building of the University of the Republic (UdelaR); the Obelisk; the Cerro Fortresss; the Cerrito; and many others.


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. 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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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 5 years ago


      Yes, this central area of Montevideo is historically very absorbing. Thank-you for your comment.

    • teacherjoe52 profile image

      teacherjoe52 5 years ago

      Very interesting.

      Thank you.

      I like to learn about history.