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Cerro de Montevideo


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In Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay one can find the “Cerro de Montevideo.” This “Cerro,” which means hill in Spanish, is located across the bay from the city.

the Cerro of Montevideo seen from Montevideo

Although its top reaches an elevation close to 400 feet, the Cerro of Montevideo does not seem very tall from far away. Many buildings can be seen on it and we were told these buildings are part of neighborhoods composed of immigrant descendents. These immigrants are not primarily from one country but rather are mostly from Europe. Individuals and families can trace their heritage from countries such as Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Armenia and many others. During the beginning of the 20th century life in Europe was difficult and two World Wars made things worse. Uruguay, as many other countries of the Americas, opened its arms to the needy, and the Cerro of Montevideo was settled.

Montevideo seen from the Cerro.

Remembering what we have read about Uruguay it was the Cerro whom gave the name to Montevideo. Before the northern coast of el Río de la Plata was colonized by the Europeans, what is today Uruguay was seized by the Portuguese. They settled in the city of Colonia del Sacramento, to the west of Montevideo and directly opposite to the north of Buenos Aires. During this time a Portuguese captain referred to the area of Montevideo as being the place where he had “video”, which means seen, a “monte”, which means hill. This if course was in reference to the Cerro and both of these words, “video” and “monte” have very similar meanings in Spanish and Portuguese. Although we must mention that some historians consider that it was during Magellan’s expedition that someone called the area “Monte Vidi” for the first time; which could very well be so, and would set the naming of the region 160 years further back. To make a long story short the name stuck and after a few adjustments in the language and two or three centuries of pure struggle we find the city on one side of the bay and the Cerro looking at it from across.

On El Cerro.

The history of the Cerro is much older than the expedition of Magellan’s ( 1520 ) or even that of Solís ( 1516 ) who was the first European to navigate the waters of the Río de la Plata. It is very likely that this hill was very significant, even sacred, to the inhabitants of the Montevideo area, the Charruas, before the Europeans arrived.

The Charruas buried their dead with reverence. Family members would inflict physical torture on themselves and several weapons and other personal items would accompany the body in burial. Once horses where introduced to the region it became an essential part of Charrua culture, horses where sacrificed above their master’s tomb. This leads us to conclude that they believed in a life after death and that they treated their dead with respect.

The Charruas selected high places, such as hills, to burry their dead. There have been discoveries of weapons and person effects within the Cerro. Although we can not confirm due to our lack of in-depth knowledge about this culture, it is very likely that the Cerro de Montevideo is or at least was considered a sacred place.

Entrance to the Museo Militar Fortaleza General Artigas.

The Cerro of Montevideo is not considered a tourist section, and it is this feature that we enjoyed the most. According to some of the people we talk to, it is a poor area. While it is true the neighborhoods we saw were not wealthy, they where not poor by our standards. There were many people on the street and at no time did we felt threatened nor unwelcome. Like the rest of Uruguay we have visited they treated us very well and with a great deal of respect.

In the Museo Militar Fortaleza General Artigas: It is forbiden the order of halt or fall back. Order given by Brigadier General Juan Antonio Lavalleja in the Battle of Sarandí.

Atop the Cerro there is a fortress called the Museo Militar Fortaleza General Artigas (Fortress General Artigas Military Museum). This fortress was constructed in 1808, the last military construction build during the colonial period. It was not intended to be part of the city’s defense; rather its purpose was to protect the lighthouse.

Nowadays the fortress is a museum attended by members of the armed forces who go out of their way to make everyone feel welcome. They have a collection of rifles and various weapons which are very attractive, even to those that know nothing of guns, much like us. These are presented in halls where the history of Uruguay is explained in murals. What attracted us most were the heroic phrases that created this nation. And as the Cuban Americans that we are what truly drew our attention was the image of the patroness of the artillery, Blessed Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara

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Last revision: December 1, 2003
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