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Montevideo History

Created as a result of a Spanish-Portuguese spat, Montevideo’s hasn’t enjoyed a smooth ride.

Unhappy about Portuguese advances south from Brazil, Buenos Aires governor Bruno Mauricio de Zabala founded Montevideo in 1726. The Portuguese had set up a town across the water from Buenos Aires in 1680, and it was time to boot them out.

The town was initially home to soldiers and a handful of Spanish immigrants, but gradually grew into a vital trading base.

In 1807, the Brits swanned into town, occupying the city for a few months until the Spanish snatched it back.

And so continued a series of occupations and skirmishes, with Spanish, Argentine, Portuguese and Brazilian forces taking it in turns to control the city.

Uruguay won independence from Brazil and Argentina in 1828, with Montevideo as the capital.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing from there. Squabbling rival political factions couldn’t find common ground and a civil war ensued. Montevideo was subjected to a nine-year siege from 1843 to 1851.

While an Argentine-Uruguayan army besieged the city, French and British forces were busy supplying the city via sea. Montevideo’s port ended up doing rather well.

When the siege ended, Montevideo expanded and prospered, implementing important infrastructure projects throughout the 19th century.

By the early 20th century, Spanish and Italian immigrants were arriving in droves, with new neighbourhoods popping up left, right and centre.

During WWII, it was in neutral Montevideo that a German captain chose to scuttle his ship, Admiral Graf Spee, rather than risk the lives of his crew.

By the 1950s, the city was in decline. From the late 1960s and throughout the dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, political violence rocked Montevideo.

Democracy was restored in 1980, but a banking crisis in 2002 caused untold economic damage. Since then, Montevideo has steadily got back on its feet.

Did you know?
• Avenida 18 de Julio is named after the date of the Uruguay’s first constitution, 18 July 1830.
• Montevideo hosted the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930.
• In the annual Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Montevideo is regularly named the Latin American city with the best quality of life.

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Featured Hotels


Hotel Oxford

Recently renovated, but still with old-fashioned touches, this cheap Montevideo hotel is a popular bolthole for business travellers on a budget, though its city-centre location is good for tourists too. The restaurant is basic, but there are plenty of other dining opportunities nearby.

Hotel Plaza Fuerte

In the interesting, old part of Montevideo, this great-value hotel was built in 1913 and is a national monument. Each room has its own décor scheme and all are spacious, while some of the suites have gigantic Jacuzzi baths.

Hotel Palacio

With a great old-timey feel, this ageing classic is a favourite for travellers on a budget. Touches like original tile work, brass bed heads and a few sticks of antique furniture add to the appeal. Rooms at the front have small balconies but can be noisy, while those at the back have good views over the plaza.

La Baguala

A slice of paradise set within 400 acres of privately-owned land, this hotel will see to nearly every need, from a spacious outdoor pool to its own private beach, à la carte dining options to entertainment for the little ones with a fully equipped games room. Breakfast is complimentary and rooms come furnished with flat-screen TVs, safety deposit box and minibar.

Caballo Loco Hostel

Centrally located, just a few metres from Plaza Cagancha in Montevideo's historic centre, this hostel offers between four and ten bed shared dorms. Basic and a little drab, the facilities are extensive and include a bar, cafe, bike hire, laundry service, free Wi-Fi and a communal kitchen.

Cala di Volpe

Guest rooms in this modern hotel, right on the waterfront, are tastefully decorated with dark wood fittings and white walls. Light, modern cuisine is on offer in the restaurant, and the pool and spa have pleasant views over the river.