Montevideo

28 January 2020

Montevideo was a gracious interlude during our time in Buenos Aires. The capital of Uruguay and home to half the country’s population, at just over one million inhabitants Montevideo is small but perfectly formed.

The old port area – Ciudad Vieja – was our first destination after a two and a half fast ferry across the Rio de la Plata. Miniaturist in scale, with cobbled streets, colonial town houses and quiet plazas dotted with ornate fountains and canary island date palms, the old city reminded us that Uruguay is a cultural mix of Argentina and Brazil and was effectively established as a buffer between the two larger states.

A short walk along the pedestrian mall of Avenue Sarandi and we were in the busier downtown and Plaza Independencia. This plaza is the location of the old city gates, equestrian statues, mausoleums, government buildings and theatres, but actually completely dominated by the very striking Art Deco tower of the 1920s – Palacio Salvo. This tower was once the tallest building in South America and the best example of Art Deco in Uruguay. Art Deco, French Second Empire and 1950s communist bloc tower all meld together rather well in the bright and hot South American summer.

Indigenous spirit masks

The old town of Montevideo is home to the Pre-Columbian and Indigenous Art Museum. The museum holds a wide collection of indigenous masks and helped us to understand the importance of masks in indigenous culture, especially in Mexico. During fiestas of the dead, family members would wear the masks of ancestors to make a spiritual connection and to communicate with their dead. However, the mask would also conceal the identity of the living person – thereby ensuring they would not be subsequently haunted by the spirit. The masks are extraordinary, not so much for their beauty as for their incredible realism and the expressive particularity of the individual faces.

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