Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Colonia del SacramentoPosted on January 20, 2011
Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Towards the end of our trip to Argentina, my friend and I traveled across the Río de la Plata to neighboring Uruguay, specifically a little town called Colonia del Sacramento. It is the oldest town in Uruguay and is known for its barrio historico (historic quarter). Although originally founded by the Portuguese in the late 17th century, control over the town would shift back between them and the Spanish until the founding of Uruguay in 1828. Coming from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, where we had spent the last week among constant mobs of people, intense traffic, and almost daily political marches, Colonia was the exact opposite and provided a much welcome respite.
Although the ferry docked in the “modern” section of the town, it was only a short distance to the barrio historic. While we were walking, I couldn’t get over how quiet it was. Were it not for the other signs of life around us-a few cars, other pedestrians, storekeepers appraising their wares-the scene could almost be described as eerie. It couldn’t be called a town that time forgot since Colonia clearly kept up with the times, at least in the newer section of the town. But it could be called “another world.” The barrio historico town reminded me of the name bestowed upon places like Colonial Williamsburg and Dearborn Village, “living history museums.” Although there were no re-enactors like there are at Williamsburg, individuals who take on the roles of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Washington, there were still people dressed in Spanish colonial attire, playing the part of their ancestors from centuries before.
Many travelers say that the historic portion of Colonia is reminiscent of old Lisbon, a city best described as unique and nothing like other European capitals. I also read that the winding streets and colorful houses are actually laid out in a pattern that is different from Spanish colonial cities. This particular fact amazed me because I had always assumed that colonial cities in the Americas, as in cities founded by conquerors that came from the same culturally linked peninsula (the Iberian for anyone not up on their geography) would all look the same. Goes to show you how wrong you can be when you assume something.
There wasn’t a ton to see and do in Colonia. Highlights included the Puerta de la Ciudadela, a drawbridge built in 1745 that safeguarded the walled city as it was the only entrance. I was particularly fascinated with this, tying to imagine what life must have been like for the residents of Colonia, having only one way in and one way out. What would life be like today for any of us, if there only ever was one way in and out? There also was the plaza mayor (town square) which I’m guessing back in the day was a bit more populated than it was when we there. In the Hispanic culture, the plaza mayor was the place to be seen and heard, to catch the daily happenings of society. Besides my friend and me, the only other people taking it all in were a bunch of retired porteños (residents of Buenos Aires). But if I were to close my eyes, I could picture Colonia’s townspeople from the 17th and 18th centuries, in attire that would have been similar to what was worn by the actors in the 1985 film The Mission, which actually centered on Portuguese settlements in South America.
I don’t know why but I have always loved lighthouses, especially historic ones. To think that before the advent of advanced navigational equipment and systems, ships had to rely on this one person to guide them safely to shore. When I saw that there was one in Colonia, I of course wanted to climb to the top of el faro. As pretty as Colonia was from the ground, it was even prettier from up above. You could see for miles, taking in the incredible width of the Rio de la Plata, the gorgeous hibiscus and bougainvillea treetops. The beautiful vista truly epitomized the meaning of peace and serenity.
Although we had a “miss” dining experience at lunch, I did find a doll to add to my “dolls of the world” collection, the bonus being that she even had a cup of mate in her hands. Mate is a traditional drink in South America that is prepared from steeping dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water, so she looked all the more “native.”
All too soon it was time for us to return to crazy, frantic, ever pulsating Buenos Aires. But I did have a neat souvenir, beautiful memories captured on film, and a new stamp in my passport, so all in all it was wonderful day spent “back in time,” in “another mundo.”