Visiting the Independence Building, Montevideo, Uruguay: historic, neo-Classical Presidential palace
It looks good, whatever you call it
This fine, pillared, neo-Classical building in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, is today known officially as the Independence Building (Spanish: Edificio Independencia ). This structure is the historic Presidential palace. However, its history is somewhat complex.
In Uruguay it was formerly popular to call various public buildings by the term 'Palace'. Uruguay's recent Presidents have tended to cultivate modesty around their official functions (1), and thus even the historic Presidential palace has been renamed a 'Building' (Spanish: Edificio ). Given that the public square onto which the Independence Building faces is called Independence Square (Spanish: Plaza Independencia ), this new name undoubtedly has a certain logic.
The Independence Building was previously known as the Estévez Palace (Spanish: Palacio Estévez ), named for the family which used to live there prior to 1880, when the building came into the possession of the Uruguayan government. It was built for don Francisco Estévez, a prominent merchant, and his family, in 1873 and 1874, the architect being Manoel de Castel, with work also undertaken by Juan A. Capurro. Design influence can be discerned from buildings in Vicenza, Italy.
From 1890, it served as the seat of government. When in recent decades the seat of government moved to the Liberty Building (Spanish: Edificio Libertad ) and subsequently to the Executive Tower (Spanish: Torre Ejecutiva ), the Independence Building retained a ceremonial function and to this day displays exhibits and artifacts relating to the institutional history of Uruguay.
On Presidential inauguration day, it is customary for the President-elect to begin a procession from the Legislative Palace, which ends at the Independence Building. It has also been traditional for the incoming President's first cabinet to meet at the Independence Building.
A government proposal in 2009 to move the remains of independence-era leader General José Gervasio Artigas from the neighbouring mausoleum on Independence Square into the Independence Building was not implemented, following public protests (2).
(1) This cultivation of modesty, which may indeed be far from mere affectation on the part of some holders of the office, has resulted in some recent Presidents of Uruguay refusing to adopt various customs and expectations formally associated with the role of head of state. Examples of this have included the following: the official residence of the President has not been lived in by some recent Presidents; there has been a refusal to travel in a limousine to the Presidential inauguration; a refusal to wear a necktie, whether at the Presidential inauguration, or indeed any other occasion, etc. In recent years, a Legislative majority has been held by supporters of former radicals, many of whom spent years either in jail or in exile, and who have tended to feel culturally closer to images of the Cuban Revolution than to being desirous of close commercial or political identification with the United States. However authentic their personal modesty, recent heads of state have thus also laboured under the pressure of strongly egalitarian cultural attitudes from their own supporter base.
(2) The grand mausoleum of General Artigas was built during the period of rule of the civilian-military administration of 1973-1985.
Also worth seeing
In Montevideo , sights of interest include: Independence Square, which the Independence Building faces, with its Artigas memorial and mausoleum, the 'Ciudadela' gateway, and the tall 'Palacio Salvo'; the striking Legislative Palace (Spanish: Palacio Legislativo ); the 'Cerro' Fort overlooking the port.
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. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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