UNESCO World Heritage Site #20: Historic Quarter of the City of Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguay)

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The entrance to Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia, Uruguay is a beautiful seventeenth-century town on the Rio de la Plata, directly across the river from Buenos Aires.  It’s easily visited by bus via Montevideo or ferry from Buenos Aires.  Walking along the river, you can see Argentina across the river.

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Walking on the riverbank of the Rio de la Plata.  You can see Argentina across the water.

The town is small and peaceful.  Vintage cars are everywhere, both recycled and some still in use.  Portuguese and Spanish architecture and design are flush against each other, and you can see the stark differences in their construction.

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The building on the left was built by the Portuguese.  The building on the right was built later by the Spanish.

From UNESCO’s description:

Founded by the Portuguese in 1680, Colonia del Sacramento is located at the tip of a short peninsula with a strategic position on the north shore of the Río de la Plata, facing Buenos Aires. In the region, the Historic Quarter of Colonia is the only example of an urban plan that does not conform to the rigid “checkerboard” grid imposed by Spain under the “Laws of the Indies.” Instead, this city has a free plan adapted to the topographical features of the site, although strongly influenced by its military function.

Throughout the successive destructions and occupations of its territory, the Historic Quarter acquired the urban and architectural heterogeneity that characterizes it:  to the contributions of the Portuguese and Spanish, were added those of the artisans who emigrated there during the second half of the 19th century.

All of its modest buildings, in regard both to their dimensions and their appearance, are a particularly interesting testimony to the singular fusion of the Portuguese and Spanish traditions that is evident in the construction methods used. The civil and religious buildings with long stone walls, wooden trellis and tiled roofs reveal an excellent knowledge of traditional construction systems and contribute to the architectural unity specific to the Historic Quarter.

Even the streets show a mix of styles and cultures.  The Spanish streets are ordered with a drain down the middle.  The Portuguese streets have cobblestones strewn about more randomly with drains on both sides of the street.  I have to say that the Spanish streets are much easier on sore feet!

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La Calle de los Supriros (The Street of Sighs) built by the Spanish

For my trip, I took a guided tour from Montevideo, which had a few other (mostly bizarre) stops on the way back.  I spent a lazy afternoon wandering around the town, visited the old church, ate lunch at one of the little sidewalk cafes, browsed an art gallery, read on some rocks by the water, and made it back with time to spare to my tour bus. I skipped climbing the lighthouse, although it looked fun.

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The front of the Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento (The Basilica of the Holy Sacrament) founded in 1680.  The building dates to 1810.

This is an easy town to visit once you get there.  Some quick tips:

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes.  The cobblestones are no joke.
  • Bring cash if you’re planning on shopping.
  • Don’t skip walking inside the church–it’s so whimsical!
  • Take some time to walk behind the buildings and sit on the river.  There are a few riverside cafes, but you can claim a pretty rock if you’d rather.
  • Go inside some of the buildings–my biggest regret is I didn’t go inside enough.
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Inside the Basilica

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