Don’t Miss all the Art-Deco Buildings in Montevideo!

Montevideo: two nicely restored buildings along Avenida España. I love the classic Art-Deco facade of the left house.

Montevideo: two nicely restored buildings along Bulevar España. I love the classic Art-Deco facade of the left house.

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.

Montevideo: a real mix of styles around Plaza Independencia. This one takes a prominent corner position.

Montevideo: a real mix of styles around Plaza Independencia. This one takes a prominent corner position.

Montevideo: a real mix of styles around Plaza Independencia. At least they matched the ground level of the modern building to the adjoining Art-Deco structure.

Montevideo: a real mix of styles around Plaza Independencia. At least they matched the ground level of the modern building to the adjoining Art-Deco structure.

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.

Montevideo: if you're lucky you can peek into an entrance of an old building. A grey and weathered facade often hides rich details of former prosperity.

Montevideo: if you’re lucky you can peek into an entrance of an old building. A grey and weathered facade often hides rich details of former prosperity.

Montevideo: another stunning entrance, this one found in a residential side street, photographed through the glass of the entrance door.

Montevideo: another stunning entrance, this one found in a residential side street, photographed through the glass of the entrance door.

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 !

Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with nearly 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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11 Responses

  1. Janice Chung says:

    I appreciate having my eyes opened to new places and what they have to offer. I have always heard about Buenos Aires but knew nothing about Montevideo. Thanks for sharing a different way to look at a city!

    • Juergen says:

      We always love to explore cities from a different point of view. I still remember my first visit to Bologna in Italy, I was in my mid-twenties, where I poked my head into every courtyard I could find. Ever since I look into doorways to see what might be hiding behind.

  2. Nancie says:

    Love these old buildings. I would become a peeping Thomessa :)! I’ve heard good things about Montevideo, although I’ve not been there. One of these days I might add South America to my travel list. Right now it’s Europe, Asia, and North America!

    • Juergen says:

      I love your expression “peeping Thomessa” :D
      Montevideo is really a nice city, small enough to get around in. This week I read on National Geographic’s site that they believe Montevideo is Latin America’s most laid-back capital city.

  3. What a cool city, great job capturing it. Love the old buildings.

  4. I didn’t really think of the buildings as Art Deco (duh!) but we did love Montevideo when we were there. It has a wonderful slow feel to it.

    • Juergen says:

      The thing is that at ground level, where you see all the generic shop fronts, the distinct building period and style is not always obvious. Only when you look up or peek into an entrance hallway do you discover the period features. Or you could walk through residential side streets near the centre of the city to find more old building substance.

  5. It’s great that Montevideo is not recognising that it has an architectural heritage to be proud of. The art deco features are quite stunning and with the publicity they are now getting, it will only be a matter of time till more are restored. What a stunning city it will then be.

    • Juergen says:

      In the meantime Uruguay is slowly recognising its built heritage. But, as with all “emerging economies”, money and legislation to protect all structures is lacking. And then of course there are developers who ignore the historic value of a property and only see its land value and future potential to line their pockets with profits. But that is happening worldwide…

  6. Donna Janke says:

    I love all these buildings. I would enjoy wandering around Montevideo and discovering the architecture. It would be fun to get a look inside during the building heritage day too. I did not know about Montevideo and its Art Deco architecture – thanks for sharing.

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