Solo un Sol: Las Calles de Colonia

07/02/2014

On the other side of Montevideo to the northwest is Colonia, the port it was meant to rival. Manuel de Lobo, from Portugal, founded Nova Colinia de Sacramento in 1680 in the Portuguese style. Centuries of struggle between Spain and Portugal over the port left a conglomeration of both neat and haphazard cobblestones and peaked and flat roofs.

In 1995 the town was named Humanity Heritage, which means that the town plans, physical edifices, and public areas are all protected under national law because they were deemed to have “outstanding universal value.”

Street view with Santa Rita purple flowers.
Street view with Santa Rita purple flowers.
While the structures retain their historic integrity and value, they may change purpose, a flexibility that allows older traditional structures to remain alive, similar to the historical monuments in Montevideo. Puerto Viejo, the old port at the Calle Espana, is now a yacht dock. Another ancient structure, once a glue and soap factory before being bought by la ministria de cultura, now hosts cultural exhibitions.

At its entrance, Porton de Campo, or the Drawbridge Entrance, was built in 1745 and the drawbridge still opens to Colonia. However, the Buenos Aires it faces across the river has grown much larger through the centuries. The town’s main square, Plaza 25 de Mayo Mayor, is where soldiers would train.

A popular and well known side street with uneven cobble stones, Calle de Suspiros—the “street of sighs”—doesn’t have an official namesake. Theories include criminal hangings, a romantic murder, and luring prostitutes. Regardless of the origin, the street is pretty and receives many sighs of appreciation.

View of Colonia from a lighthouse.
View of Colonia from a lighthouse.

Buildings and features were added by the Portuguese and the Spanish over the centuries. (At one point the city had changed hands 17 times.) Between 1683 and 1704 the San Francisco Convent was built, and El Faro was constructed in 1857, overlooking (and incorporating) the crumbling walls of the convent. Basílica del Santísmo Sacramento, also worth a visit, was built of stone by the Portuguese in 1808.

The list of buildings to visit continues at length: La Plaza de Toros, Camping Municipal de Colonia, La Casona del Sur, Bernandi Winery, and Avenida General Flores are only a few. Like most of what I see in Uruguay, I wish I could continue to explore and know the area deeper.

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View of the break between the regular orderly cobblestone of the Spanish and the haphazard cobblestones of the Portuguese. Distinctions between the two styles can also be seen in the architecture.
View of the break between the regular orderly cobblestone of the Spanish and the haphazard cobblestones of the Portuguese. Distinctions between the two styles can also be seen in the architecture.