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Montevideo - History

Montevideo History

Being sandwiched between South American powerhouses Brazil and Argentina has not always meant a certain or high-profile existence for Montevideo. It was in response to the growing influence of the Portuguese in the River Plate area that the Spanish first established a citadel in the sheltered port of Montevideo in 1726. It was also the rivalry between Uruguay's northern and southern neighbors that led to the country's independence in 1828, when it became a buffer zone between the two powers, thanks to a British-mediated treaty. The British, however, had commercial interests of their own, as Montevideo's port was superior to Buenos Aires' in many respects, making it a focal point for overseas shipping.

For most of the 19th century, Montevide├▒os had to contend with political and military threats from their neighbors and economic manipulation by Britain. From 1838 until 1851, the city suffered almost constant sieges from the Argentine dictator Rosas, who was determined to set up a small client state to Buenos Aires. After Rosas' fall in 1851, Montevideo's economy recovered and its port became the hub for an improving agricultural sector. Between 1860 and 1911, the British built a railroad network which greatly assisted Montevideo's growth and linked it with the campo (countryside).

Like Buenos Aires, in the early 20th century the prospering city began to absorb a large number of European immigrants (mostly from Spain and Italy). By 1908 more than 30% of Montevideo's population was foreign-born, the source of the city's rich cultural diversity.

Economic stagnation and political decline in the mid 20th century saw Montevideo's middle-class prestige all but ended, and the effects of the ensuing military dictatorship still scar the city. Many refugees from areas of rural poverty flooded into the city - mostly living in conventillos, large, older houses converted into multifamily slums in the Ciudad Vieja.

A return to more democratic traditions, stronger trade ties with its South American neighbors and the rapid growth of Montevideo's urban population have lead to renewed agricultural expansion and optimism for a return to the city's former prosperity.

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