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Visiting the Main Building of the University of the Republic, Montevideo, Uruguay: monumental 1911 Neoclassicism

Updated on February 24, 2014
Flag of Uruguay
Flag of Uruguay | Source
Main Building, University of the Republic, Montevideo
Main Building, University of the Republic, Montevideo | Source
Portrait of Lorenzo A. Fernández, 1st Rector of the University of the Republic, Uruguay, between 1849 and 1850.
Portrait of Lorenzo A. Fernández, 1st Rector of the University of the Republic, Uruguay, between 1849 and 1850. | Source
Map location of Montevideo, Uruguay
Map location of Montevideo, Uruguay | Source

Part of the (dis)continuous history of a distinguished institution founded in 1849

I wish I had studied here.

No matter; I am very satisfied with the fine universities where I did study. Having lived in Uruguay, however, I must confess to a special interest in the country's principal university.

This distinguished building, begun in 1906 and opened in 1911, is executed in Neoclassical style; its architects were Juan María Aubriot and Silvio Geranio. The monumental frontage at Avenida 18 de julio, 1824, is thus a major landmark on this main artery of Downtown Montevideo. It incorporates inset pillars, significant arching and ornamental features.

A representation of the entrance to the building is used in the University's logo, familiar to its more than 80,000 students. Among the departments housed in the Main Building are the University's administration and its law faculty (1).

Often abbreviated 'UdelaR', the University of the Republic (Spanish: Universidad de la República), Montevideo, was inaugurated in 1849. Its founding Rector was Lorenzo A. Fernández from 1849 to 1850. Other noted personalities influential in its founding were Dámaso Antonio Larrañaga, Manuel Oribe y Viana and Joaquín Suárez de Rondelo y Fernández.

It is very difficult to draw up a balanced and representative list of alumni and/or former faculty of the University of the Republic; but a somewhat arbitrarily selected few of the internationally more well known individuals include (alphabetically): prominent lawyer and defence minister Azucena Berrutti studied at UdelaR ; prominent lawyer and journalist and Uruguayan President Jorge Luis Batlle Ibáñez studied at UdelaR ; a number of generations of the Blanco family (Juan Carlos Blanco Fernández, Juan Carlos Blanco Acevedo, Juan Carlos Blanco Estradé) all served as Foreign Minister, having studied at UdelaR ; Foreign Minister and League of Nations representative Alberto Guani studied at UdelaR ; Italian-Uruguayan architect Julia Guarino Fiechter qualified at UdelaR ; veteran Nationalist leader and journalist Luis Alberto de Herrera y Quevedo studied at UdelaR; lawyer, journalist and Uruguayan President Luis Alberto Lacalle de Herrera studied at UdelaR, US-based writer and architect Jorge Majfud studied at UdelaR ; internationally acknowledged mathematician and political activist José Luis Massera studied and taught at UdelaR ; eminent, Canada-based architect and designer of the Paris Bastille Opera, Carlos A. Ott studied at UdelaR ; distinguished medical doctor and professor Manuel Quintela, for whom the UdelaR 's Hospital is named, studied and taught at UdelaR ; prominent journalist, lawyer and twice elected Uruguayan President Julio María Sanguinetti Coirolo studied at UdelaR ; 21st and 26th Rector Claudio Williman served also as President of Uruguay 1907-1911; distinguished philosopher 29th and 32nd Rector Carlos Vaz Ferreira, founding dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Educational Sciences (Spanish: Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educación), as it is now called, whose name is borne today by one of the University's main lecture theatres; cancer specialist and Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez Rosas studied and taught at UdelaR; and many other equally distinguished men and women.

Interestingly, the University's rectors are formally given an ordinal number. Thus, Lorenzo A. Fernández is known as the 1st Rector, Manuel Herrera y Obes as 2nd Rector, and so forth. But a challenge arises in the minds of some administrators: some of the University's Rectors were appointed when unelected governments were in office. The various Rectors who served during Uruguay's civilian-military administration of 1973 to 1985 have been stripped of their ordinal designation, but, significantly, this has not been carried out by the University authorities in relation to various rectors who served during other, turbulent times in the country's history. Despite the fact that a number of Presidents of Uruguay, such as Gabriel Terra in the 1930s and, just before the turn of the 20th century, Juan Lindolfo Cuestas, and others, ruled by decree, yet UdelaR Rectors appointed during these periods have not had their official designations taken from them (2). The nature of these many, historical experiences arguably underline the difficulty of attempts to 'air-brush' the past, or of doing so in a consistent way. In fact, the early history of the University of the Republic also reveals abundant evidence of efforts to overcome the turbulence of the intermittent Civil War which recurred over several decades of Uruguay's post-Independence period.

So, does the looming presence of UdelaR's Main Building on Avenida 18 de julio represent a toposemantic dissonance in the country's history? or, rather, a continuum? One is deeply conscious that, despite the upheavals which have marked the University at various periods of its history since 1849, the survival and, indeed, the flourishing, of this seat of learning have marked UdelaR as an outstanding cultural symbol and treasure for Uruguay.

MJFenn, May 1, 2012


(1) The first professor of Civil Law was exiled Argentinian Dr. Alejo Villegas, appointed in 1851, who was also active in the founding of the University.

(2) For example, it is significant that UdelaR's 30th Rector José Espalter went on to serve as President Terra's Council of State and briefly as Foreign Minister. To put such matters into some sort of at least vaguely comparable Canadian context, historian John English has unearthed 'overwhelming' evidence that Pierre Elliott Trudeau was once a Vichy-France supporting member of a revolutionary, separatist cell, yet it would not serve the cause of objectivity to try to 'air-brush' any aspect of this Canadian statesman's life from history. See: John English, Citizen of the World, 2006, p.p. 45-106.)

Also worth seeing

Montevideo's many visitor attractions are too numerous to mention adequately, but these include: the Legislative Palace, Plaza Independencia, the Palacio Salvo, the Ciudadela, the Cerro Fortress, the Cathedral (or Matriz Church), 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. 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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