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Highlights of Montevideo

Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento

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Highlights from our trip to Montevideo today...

The Gaucho and Currency Museum

I had a feeling that this was going to be a fantastic museum, and so it proved to be! It tells the story of the gauchos, the cowboys of Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay, conveying through some fascinating artifacts and accompanying information their way of life and the deep connection they had/have with their animals and the land.

We found nearly everything interesting, but our special favourites were the beautifully engraved silver gaucho knives in leather sheaths, the drinking horns and cups (one of which was in the shape of a small fish with silver engraved scales), the silver spurs, the collection of boleadores on ropes (used to catch cows and deer, etc., by entangling their legs), a tinderbox in the shape of a tiny horn, and the collection of interestingly-shaped mate gourds with their bombillas (silver straws containing a filter for the mate leaves).


The currency collection was smaller and not quite so fascinating, but still worth looking at. Before it became a museum, the building contained the Banco República for eighty years until 1980; we walked round what had been the deputy bank manager's office, which contained the original desk, chairs, typewriters, corded telephones and other equipment, as well as the wooden panelling and inlaid wooden floor.


The building was originally a palace, so the interior was quite grand and very beautiful.


The Museum of Pre-Columbian Indigenous Art

Another very interesting museum, though they seemed to have some unused rooms; it was not as big as I was expecting.

During the time I was working in Ecuador (between May 2013 and July 2014) I managed to visit several museums containing pre-Columbian finds. I became particularly interested in the zoomorphic and anthropomorphic clay objects, and familiar with the names of the different cultures who made them. With this in mind, I was excited not only to see some zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures here in Montevideo, one or two of which were from Ecuador, but also references in written information on the walls to some of the cultures I recognised; La Tolita, Valdivia, Jama Coaque. It was a bit like saying hello to old friends.


The Venuses of Valdivia (ceramic female figurines) took me right back to a day trip I took from the city of Guayaquil to a specific museum in the Santa Elena peninsula; the Lovers of Sumpa (a pair of pre-Columbian skeletons found buried in an embrace) was the main attraction, but amongst other things I also saw lots of artifacts from the cultures who lived in and nearby that part of Ecuador between about 3500 BC and 1500 AD. Fun fact (at least for some) - the Valdivia culture, who lived in the Santa Elena peninsula between 3500 and 1800 BC, produced the oldest known pottery in all of the Americas. Strange to think that I used to live just round the corner from where they used to live thousands of years ago.

I also loved the collection of indigenous musical instruments from various parts of Latin America; special shout out to the Quechua ocarina from north-western Argentina, the Bolivian charango, Mexican/ Mesoamerican ateccocolli (conch shell), Aztec tlapitzalli (a carved wooden pipe with a mouthpiece and a flared bottom end), the wicker rattle from the Bororo people in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, and the ravé Mbaya, a string instrument very like a small three-stringed cello with a very curved bow.


They also had two fascinating temporary exhibitions on loan from the Russian Museum of Ethnography; one of shamanism in Siberia, and the other one of ethnographical photographs taken of various minority peoples in Russia in the first quarter of the 20th century. They were so interesting we spent quite some time looking at them. Dave was particularly interested in the ones of the Evenki people (who are spread across Russia, Ukraine and China), because he had seen the TV show about when Ray Mears went to live with them for a while.


Plaza Independencia

Palm trees, an impressive equestrian statue of the Uruguayan national hero José Artigas in the middle, and the pretty, white Palacio Estévez on one side. Aesthetic effect slightly tainted however by a couple of tower blocks. Still, a lovely place to sit, rest and people-watch for a while. For the first time ever we saw a drone in action, hovering around the statue. I found it a bit unsettling, to be honest; it's the type of thing I can imagine appearing in my dreams, becoming sentient and evil and then hunting me down...


Plaza & Iglesia Matriz

A lovely leafy little square with a fountain, looked over by the neoclassical Catedral Metropolitana de Montevideo (informally known as Iglesia Matriz). This is in the Old Town and was the heart of the colonial city. The interior of the cathedral was impressive and ornate and we lit a candle each for Dad and for Dave's grandma. There was a shrine to La Virgen de los Treinte y Tres, the patron saint of Uruguay, who I recognised from the basilica in Colonia de Sacramento.


The Artisan Market

A covered market filled with the stalls of some clearly talented craftspeople and artists. A bit on the pricey side, though, so I only bought two things; a lovely glazed earthenware candleholder dish with a vivid turquoise swirl, and a birthday present for someone. Dave didn't get anything.

Street life

Fruit stalls selling mandarins (with their leaves still on) and unusually long pineapples; a stall selling unframed, colourful canvases (I regret not buying anything from it now); people drinking from mate gourds; shoeshiners; some kind of food stall with a massively long pipe sticking up with steam billowing out of it; and paving stones, each one named after a famous person or group, with a stylised sun pattern on each. Dave took special note of the Rolling Stones one; Nelson Mandela had one too.



We didn't get back to Colonia until past 9pm, so we were glad that the restaurants here don't open until later than in the UK! Knowing this was our last chance to visit before we return to Buenos Aires tomorrow, we returned to our favourite steak & grill restaurant, Parrillada El Porton. After yet another amazing meal there we hoped to get one last fabulous ice cream from Heladería Arco Iris, but unfortunately it had closed for the day by the time we got there.

We enjoyed our stay in Uruguay a lot - I really hope we can return some day!

Posted by 3Traveller 06:31 Archived in Uruguay Tagged art market museum cathedral dave uruguay montevideo explorations colonia_del_sacramento pre_columbian_artifacts traditional_customs uruguayan_cuisine

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