Across the street, the famous 18 de Julio Avenue—and another shady plaza—are rimmed with shops selling clothes, housewares and electronics, currency exchange outlets, and even more sidewalk cafés offering pastas, pizzas, and chivitos. (A chivito is akin to a Philly cheese steak, piled high with ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, a fried egg, slathered with sauce, and all atop a bed of French fries.
Montevideo is the capital city of Uruguay, located on the east bank of the Rio de la Plata. Though sometimes overlooked beside nearby Buenos Aires, Montevideo is a significant city in its own right: it’s the cultural and political center of the country, home to well over a million people, more than ten times the size of the next largest Uruguayan city. The metro area has around two million—half of the population of Uruguay—but the friendliness and helpfulness of the residents will make you think you’re in a much smaller city. There are several theories about the origins of the city’s name. The “monte” part is generally considered to be the hill where the Cerro fort is located. According to one theory the hill was named “Monte-VI-D-E-O(este)”, which translates to Mountain six (VI in Roman numerals) From East to West. Another popular theory is that a member of Ferdinand Magellan’s world circumnavigation would have shouted “Monte vide eu!”, which translates to “I see a mountain!” when seeing the hill – however the circumnavigation happened two centuries before the foundation of the city so it might well have been another mountain he saw. Construction of the Cerro fort, at the time called Montevieu fort, was started by the Portuguese in 1723. The following year the Spanish started building the city of Montevideo on the opposite side of the bay where currently Ciudad Vieja is located and occupied and colonized the rest of the region. During its almost 300 years of existence, Montevideo has been part of the Spanish and Portuguese empires, occupied by the British for a few months in 1807 and afterwards a part of Brazil and today’s Argentina before finally becoming the capital of the newly-founded Republic of Uruguay in 1828. The unrest of the mid-19th century, including an eight-year siege, was followed by a time of prosperity, and the region was a popular destination for European immigrants. The pompous villas and parks that can be seen for example in the Prado district date from this period. In the 1950s, an economic collapse led to the emergence of a left-wing guerrilla movement, followed by a military dictatorship lasting until 1985, when democracy was restored. Today, Uruguay is run by the democratic socialist party of the former guerrillas, and it is one of the safest Latin American countries with the GDP per capita being among the highest.
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