Visiting the national congress was a challenge: internet said one thing, the TI said another & everyone in between had an opinion as to official visiting hours. After dragging Darío to the Cementerio Central, we took a bus there. I walked in to confirm the time & was comforted by the lack of security. Sure, I passed through a scanner but everyone was laid back & it seemed like we were all hanging out instead of entering one of the most important buildings in the nation.
A little history: Vittorio Meano had already won the contest to build the National Congress in Buenos Aires. His designs impressed Uruguay in spite of local building constrictions… o sea, no dome. But it’s an interesting compromise. Meano was assassinated before completing the project, so other architects took over. Four sculpture groups were added outside in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s:
Vestíbulo de Honor
Whenever an important guest visits, they come here first. A couple of interesting paintings about the independence of Uruguay, plus a controversial version of the first encounter with Spanish… look for the centaur.
Salón de los Pasos Perdidos
The central hallway connects all points & therefore all ideas. We happened to be there at the end of a session, & afterwards the Vice-President of Uruguay came out to answer questions from the press. No security other than a few guards at the door. Poco. I could have gone up & introduced myself… absolutely wonderful. Isn’t this how it should be? Add to this viewing the original, handwritten Uruguay constitution. Covered in plexiglass, the historian in me couldn’t help but get excited by being so close to such an important document.
Back to the central hall: Venetian mosaics representing Arts & Sciences decorate both ends of the hall. Most interesting are four reliefs representing the four sections of the Uruguay coat-of-arms: Liberty, Abundance, Strength & Justice:
Cámara de Senadores
The guide told us that seating is made of mahogany from Paraguay. Great. But realizing the somewhat small size of the Senate was a revelation. Geographically, Uruguay is no larger than the state of Washington in the US. No need to make a gigantic Congress, but what an incredible amount of decoration.
Built in Italy, shipped over & reassembled piece by piece, all books published in Uruguay must have a copy here. Eagle heads are priceless. A copy of Venus de Milo isn’t bad either.
Anyone familiar with esgrafiado will love the interior patios. Similar etched designs are found from Segovia to Barcelona… many original colors survive.
Cámara de Representantes
Equivalent of the House of Representatives in the US, the focus of this chamber is a quote by founding father Artigas: “Mi autoridad emana de vosotros y ella cesa ante vuestra presencia soberana”. A rough translation would be: “My authority emanates from you and it ends before your sovereign presence.” Fantastic.
Be sure to visit… the relaxed atmosphere will certainly change your opinion about big government.
Montevideo series: First impressions • Ciudad Vieja • Avenida 18 de Julio • Pocitos • Cementerio Central • Palacio Legislativo • La Aguada • Parque Rodó • El Prado • Final thoughts