Published on March 24th, 2010 | by Mark Chesnut
Montevideo’s Architectural Treasures: Headed for Landmark Status?
The glistening tower of the Comando General de la Armada, with the Mercado Central in the foreground.
Uruguay’s capital city may be smaller than Buenos Aires and carry less of a jet-set image than Punta del Este, but it’s laden with interesting and diverse architecture that some feel should warrant UNESCO World Heritage ranking. Peek around any corner and you might spy a stunning example of Colonial, Art Deco, Art Nouveau and other equally interesting styles.
“The Uruguay consulate has been making presentations in New York City about the historic architecture in Montevideo and efforts to restore it,” says Sandra Borello, president of Borello Travel & Tours, which has organized my most recent visit. “They are really trying to position the city’s historic center to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And I’m really impressed; they’re doing a lot of work downtown to preserve the architecture.”
Indeed, a stroll down Sarandí, the main pedestrian street downtown, reveals a flurry of work to improve walkways and spruce up buildings. I started my walking tour with Borello’s local affiliate, Lares Tours, at Plaza Indendencia, and — as with my last visit — couldn’t take my eyes off of the imposing Palacio Salvo, which was the tallest building in South America when it opened in 1925. This office/residential building (originally planned to house a grand hotel) still dominates the entire neighborhood, and served as the perfect companion for a photo taken when the Graf Zeppelin visited in 1934.
A stroll down the pedestrian street leading off of Plaza Independencia took me past various vendors peddling an interesting mix of antiques, memorabilia and original artwork. We kept walking all the way to the Mercado del Puerto (which sits adjacent to the stunning tower of the Comando General de la Armada). I found exciting architecture on just about every block. Here are just a few of my favorites.
In 1934, the Graf Zeppelin stopped to pose next to Palacio Salvo, which was once the tallest building in South America.
Palacio Salvo today.
Classic Hotel Options in Montevideo: There are a growing number of interesting hotel options downtown, with more on the way. Among the ones that impressed me the most is Plaza Fuerte, a 16-room property that offers attractive prices ($56 and up) and contemporary décor amid a historic building, right on the main pedestrian street. New properties (or, rather, old buildings about to reopen following massive renovations) include the Don, a boutique hotel set in an art deco building across the street from Mercado del Puerto, and the classically beautiful Hotel Carrasco, in the upscale neighborhood of the same name, which dates to 1921 and is to reopen with new management in the coming months. In addition, our tour guide, Ramón, said there are plans to turn the Jockey Club, a 1920 landmark, into a five-star hotel.
Hotel Plaza Fuerte.
The Hotel Carrasco, currently slated for renovation and reopening.
And now that I’ve expounded upon the beauty of Montevideo’s architecture, it’s time to watch it blow up (see my blog post below).