Don’t Miss all the Art-Deco Buildings in Montevideo!
On first impression Montevideo might not have the pizzazz of Buenos Aires, with its stylish coffee houses and tango dancers on so many street corners. Yet the city is surprisingly pedestrian friendly, with wide footpaths in most places, shady trees, and lots of historic architecture. Hidden in side streets you can find treasures similar to those of its counterpart in Argentina.
When you walk around don’t forget to look up at the facades, or peek into any open entrance doors! Many plain grey facades hide beautifully detailed Art-Deco features or opulent entrances, in polished marble, with hand-painted tiles, rich stucco reliefs, and colourful stained or etched glass panels.
Uruguay experienced a real boom time in the early twentieth century. Several factors contributed to this: after a period of military rule, Batlle and Ordóñez won a freely held democratic election in 1903. This government initiated a surprisingly large number of changes involving far reaching reforms, many of which benefited the working class and were unprecedented in Latin America.
The arrival of deep freezing technology really boosted Uruguay’s economy; suddenly it was possible to export frozen meat all the way to European markets on steam ships. Traditionally beef production was a major source of income, but through this new technology the country gained access to new and wealthy markets across the Atlantic.
Uruguay was quick to adjust and, to bolster its exports, new port facilities in Montevideo opened in 1909. During the same period the country encouraged immigration in large numbers from Europe – new arrivals needed housing, and this demand drove a building boom which left the country with countless beautifully styled Art-Deco structures.
It all came to sudden halt at the end of the WWI when Europe was struggling with the rebuilding of its war torn cities. The USA suffered the ‘Big Depression’ soon after, causing the first world wide recession. Consequently, demand for meat exports from Uruguay declined drastically.
Nevertheless, it is certainly worthwhile wandering around the city, and its outer suburbs, in search of the many beautiful old buildings. With some you might not recognise Art Deco features, yet they are interesting and nice old structures. Often they are plain grey, some suffering from neglect, but under all that patina you can detect the former glory.
In recent years officials have been slowly recognising their value. On the 10th/11th of October, 2015 Uruguay held a special festival to celebrate its building heritage, with many houses open to the public [we didn’t attend, the weather was dismal]. We hope this will become an annual event around the 12th of October, which is a public holiday.
We left saying to each other “Miami Beach, which is renowned for Art Deco architecture, has nowhere near that many interesting buildings to show for it.”
Would you have expected so many beautiful old buildings in Montevideo?
Have you ever visited this city? Did you like it?
Uruguay is a little below the radar for most travellers. If you would like to learn more about its interesting history I can recommend this series of articles !