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Impressions of Uruguay

Uruguay, the small brother, wedged between Argentina and Brazil today, as it also used to be caught in history between Portuguese and Spanish colonial influence and ambitions. But that does  not mean that the Uruguay of today lives in the shadow of its big neighbours: from its Northern shores of the mighty Río de la Plata it has proudly carved out for itself an own specific identity. Both Montevideo and Colonia, the two cities in focus of this report, were initially founded by Portuguese explorers based in colonial Brazil, and both ended up in Spanish hands, Montevideo within months after the Portuguese had first laid a claim, Colonia after the better part of two centuries of arm twisting on battle fields and in negotiation rooms. This duality of historical background has marked the country. It could hardly be more clear than in Colonia, where the Portuguese roots are still very observable in the Old Town's quaint architecture and character, charming, unassuming and unpretentious, but full of character and self-consciousness. Montevideo has a very different character, assertive and charming as well, but in a totally different way, befitting its status of capital city, generously showing off its stylish, often Italian-inspired architecture of the 19th century, enjoying its vibrant city life of markets, crowds and port activity, too intensely busy in present-day life to pay attention to its past. Since Uruguay's independence in 1825, Montevideo has indeed developed in a mode which is rather oblivious of its deeper historical background, judging from the absence of architectural and urban reference to its more distant colonial past. Do not even mention the pre-Hispanic past, of which hardly any traces are left, just like in Argentina on the other bank of the grand estuary, and unlike in the Andean societies of indigenous omnipresence. Uruguay is to South American standards a small country, but with a diversity of past and present, as will appear in the two main cities covered in this report, Montevideo and Colonia del Santìsimo Sacramento.

Before visiting the place of your choice:

'El Carnaval de Montevideo' may be less reputed than the one in Rio de Janeiro, but it is very much alive too, its annual celebration lasting up to 40 days. In 2006 a museum was dedicated to the Montevideo Carnival. Uruguayan carnival specifically draws root from the Murga and Candombe traditions, transformed into dance parades, the 'llamadas' of 'comparsas', groups of street performers. The museum displays among other things a large collection of colourful Murga outfits. Murga is a form of popular musical theatre with chorus and percussion, originating from Cádiz, Spain. The Candombe, on the other hand, is an African, Kikongo dance tradition rooted in the Congo basin.

HOMame to HOMuru
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