Uruguay’s capital digs into its colonial past

The recent discovery of vestiges of early Montevideo’s colonial-era defense system has provided an opportunity to enhance and integrate a past that was buried under the Old City into the current urban landscape, Uruguayan archaeologist Veronica De Leon said in an interview with EFE.

Uruguay's capital digs into its colonial past
A worker digging out the remains of a fortification, from an early colonial-era defense system, in Montevideo, Uruguay
[Credit: EPA-EFE/Municipality of Montevideo]

De Leon, who has studied the impact of public works in the Old City, found the remains of fortifications that have not yet been assessed by the National Heritage Commission.

The most recent find involved the San Carlos Battery, an artillery emplacement near the port of Montevideo, but De Leon said other historical vestiges of colonial Montevideo have been found in the city’s oldest district in recent years.

One includes remnants of the colonial city’s fortifications found in 2017 during work on sidewalks around Plaza Zabala, named in memory of the Spanish colonial outpost’s founder and first governor, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala.

“Last year, we started monitoring public works at Plaza Zabala and by late August some walls were found,” the archaeologist said. “We were able to identify the remains as a portion of the colonial fort in Montevideo that was completed around December 1725.”

Near the Taranco Palace, located across from Plaza Zabala, other structures found could have been part of the colonial governors residence built after 1740.

Uruguay's capital digs into its colonial past
View of the remains of a fortification, from an early colonial-era defense system, in Montevideo, Uruguay
[Credit: EPA-EFE/Municipality of Montevideo]

“(There) have been other finds outside what was then the walled city, like the colonial water fountain located where the annex of the Executive Tower, the current presidential office building, is now,” De Leon said.

The artillery emplacements found recently, like the rest of the fortifications, underwent numerous upgrades over the decades until they were dismantled by on government orders in 1829, four years after the country became independent Uruguay.

“There are different reports and documents that refer to those (upgrades), including the bastions at the Ciudadela, the high-walled fortification built around the Old City in 1741 that comprises some segments of stone wall and others with earthen levees,” the archaeologist said.

The Ciudadela became a produce market, the fortifications were demolished and the stones were later used in other buildings.

This explains why in the area where the San Carlos Battery was found there were also vestiges of a cistern along with houses built during the 19th century after the network of walled fortifications was dismantled.

Author: Alejandro Prieto | Source: EFE-EPA [March 11, 2018]

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