Colonia del Sacramento, UruguayOne Of The Continent's Most Charming Towns, A 17th-Century UNESCO-Listed Cobbled & Leafy Former Smuggling Centre
“A grid of enchanting streets on a small peninsula jutting into the Rio de la Plata, this UNESCO-listed region is made for exploring. You won’t get lost (trust me, it’s too small for that), but you’ll have fun meandering from one plaza to another along cobbled & shaded streets, checking out pastel-coloured tile-and-stucco colonial houses, ye olde churches and ancient fortifications.”
Image || On de San Francisco in Barrio Historico, Colonia del Sacramento. September 20, 2015.
Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
I got two bites at the enchanting Colonia del Sacramento cherry, more than any other location on the South American continent, but even that’s probably not enough. This is the kind of place where one could happily while away day after day sipping coffee in leafy plazas while watching the world go by. An old smuggling center at the mouth of the region’s River Plate, the Colonia’s highlight is its historic UNESCO-listed Old Town, Barrio Historico, a compact peninsula full of cobbled & shaded streets and lined by charming buildings in various stages of upkeep. It is, and make no mistake, both Uruguay’s most prized draw and one of the most beautiful & intriguing towns you’ll find anywhere in South America.
A compact portion of a larger town it may be, but Barrio Historico monopolizes the Colonia love & attention, and rightly so. A grid of enchanting streets on a small peninsula jutting into the Rio de la Plata, this UNESCO-listed region is made for exploring. You won’t get lost (trust me, it’s too small for that), but you’ll have fun meandering from one plaza to another along cobbled & shaded streets, checking out pastel-coloured tile-and-stucco colonial houses, ye olde churches and ancient fortifications.
Colonia del Sacramento & Its Barrio Historico
Strategically placed at the mouth of rivers leading from the South Atlantic Ocean into the heart of the South American continent, the so-called River Plate, this area was once the exclusive preserve of indigenous Indians. The Portuguese first arrived in 1516, although they didn’t make serious efforts to settle the region until much later – January 1680 to be precise when they founded the town. Colonia, and as a threat to Spain’s regional mercantile trade monopoly, was especially susceptible to attack from the Spanish stationed in Buenos Aires a short distance away (50 kilometres) across the Rio de la Plata. A force of Spanish & native Indians first captured the new colony barely 7 months after it was founded, this signalling the start of an elongated period of strife – the colony would change hands between the two European powers some 10 times over the next century-and-a-half, or right up until Colonia was handed over by the Spanish to the new Oriental Republic of Uruguay in 1828. Managing to retain a heady mix of European and Native influences throughout its warring years, the historic quarter of the town, the Barrio Historico, was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995, the mixed and the well-defined styles of the Portuguese and Spanish architecture reflecting a time when the town played a central role in the most historical events of the region and served as a frontier for regional cultural exchange.
– UNESCO commenting on the Historic Quarter of the City of Colonia del Sacramento
The Colonia Contrast
The only location in South America that I got to sample twice during a six-month-plus exploration of the continent, I passed through Colonia del Sacramento in September when heading west into Argentina, and again three months later when heading north out of Argentina. The town was equally beguiling on both occasions, but visually, and as one might expect given the variation of seasons, there were marked differences.
More classic car abandonment/props on the streets of Colonia’s Barrio Historico.
– Governor Antonio Vasconcellos commenting on Colonia del Sacramento in 1737