In the eighteenth century, Uruguay was the centre of a land dispute between the imperial powers of Portugal and Spain. Spanish settlers had introduced profitable cattle to the area, but the Portuguese felt the land should be part of Brazil, extending the country to the natural border of the River Plate.
The Portuguese planned to build a defensive line down the coast of the country in a bid to help secure the land. They named and began construction on the current Fortaleza de Santa Teresa.
The Spanish/Portuguese war put a halt to the Portuguese building work. But Spanish general Pedro de Cevallos ordered the completion of a fortress to defend against Portuguese Brazil. The existing foundations were built upon, leading to the fortress that still stands today.
In 1852, once Uruguay had gained independence from Spanish rule and established its borders, the fortress fell into decline due to lack of resources to pay for its upkeep.
But in the 1920s, historian and archeologist Horacio Arredondo proposed the restoration of the fort, and in the subsequent years much work was done to bring it back to its former glory. Since the 1940s it has stood firm as a museum and tourist site, and it remains one of the few bastions of colonialism across the Americas that still survives.
Colonia del Sacramento is an interesting town. As the name suggests, it’s a former colonial centre. Founded in 1680 by Portugal, various treaties meant it was tossed between Portuguese and Spanish rule seven times in the subsequent 130 years, before becoming part of the Liga Federal – an alliance of states targeting independence from the Spanish empire. In 1817 it went back to Portuguese rule, before being declared Brazilian in 1822, and finally becoming part of Uruguay after independence in 1828.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old quarter is a series of irregular cobbled streets, all enclosed by a sturdy fortification wall. There is a town square, church, lighthouse and numerous old houses, all of which retain a romantic charm.
A day is enough to explore the town before either catching one of the regular ferry services across the River Plate to Buenos Aires, or heading further into Uruguay.
seacatcolonia.com, coloniaexpress.com/ar and buquebus.com/espanol/argentina are the ferry services across the river. Check out the sites for up to date prices.
Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!