The historic quarter occupies 33 blocks, with three small squares, four squares, 27 streets, five passages and pedestrian streets. Its soil has a central hill, with natural slopes towards the three sides of the coast.
The old city was limited to the north, to the west and to the south by the rocky coast of the current Río de la Plata; to the east, by a defensive line of walls and pits that separated it from the rest of the territory. In 1995 it was declared a World Heritage Site, as illustrate the successful fusion of Portuguese, Spanish and post-colonial styles. The city map is of Portuguese origin and contrasts with the standard prescribed by Spanish law on the West Indies. It is characterized by its narrow stone-paved streets, which highlight its military tradition.
Restoration of the historic quarter
After almost 200 years, the neighbourhood known today as Historic District of Colonia del Sacramento was “ruin, destruction and abandonment”. At night, “the owners of their streets (…) were the prostitutes and their customers. “ During the day, you can see those who survived among its ruins. Different initiatives took place, but none had prospered and had been limited to specific interventions, like the one that took place in the Cathedral, in the decade of the 50s, motivated by water leaks. El 10 de octubre de 1968, el Presidente Pacheco firmó el decreto por el cual se creó el Consejo Ejecutivo Honorario para la Preservación y Reconstrucción de la Antigua Colonia del Sacramento (CEH) y le asignó los recursos correspondientes para iniciar las obras. Las obras incluyeron la reconstrucción de toda la muralla visible al día de hoy (en 1968 no estaba), la Puerta de Campo (fue reconstruida con algunas piedras originales y nuevas), el Museo Español, el Museo Portugués, la Casa de Nacarello, el Museo del Indio y la Casa del Virrey, en las ruinas del Convento, entre otras intervenciones que recuperaron el barrio histórico.
Within the historic quarter you can visit:
The street of sighs, the lighthouse, the Citadel gate, the railway station, the yacht harbour, the governor’s house, the main square, the Bastion del Carmen, the Main Church and several museums
The street of sighs
This cobbled street is undoubtedly the most famous street in Colonia and there are some legends about it that are worth knowing. Ideal place to visit during the evening, when the sun goes down and the buildings take very different colours.
In Punta of San Pedro there is a lighthouse that was built in 1857, built on the ruins of an old convent. It is made up by a masonry tower painted white, with a dome with red and white radial stripes. Its focal height is 34 meters above sea level. Climbing the stairs to the top of the lighthouse is a must, where you can see almost the entire city and enjoy beautiful scenery.
Puerta de la Ciudadela
Also called “Portón de Campo” or “Puerta de Campo”. It was built in the 1745 by order of the Portuguese governor Vasconcellos. In its origins the gate was the portico of entrance to Colonia, protected at that time by a strong military fort of thick walls that were frequent target of pirate attacks, Spanish and English. Rebuilt in 1970 keeping the details of the original fort, accompanied by ancient walls, old cannons and drawbridge over the moat. It is located in front of the square of 1811 and going through it is to enter the historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento
The railway station: On the South coast halfway between the wall and the port is the old railway station of Colonia .The station was inaugurated with the arrival of the first train from Montevideo, in 1901. The inaugural trip demanded nine hours and drove 30 passengers. Central Uruguay Railway Company was the company that obtained the concession of the line. Nowadays the rail service is not available. Close to the station are there AFE Cultural Center and the Interpretation Center
Yacht Harbor and Port:
At Punta Santa Rita, on the north side of the cape, there is a small port for sports and recreational boats called “Puerto Viejo”. It is a recommended walk because it is one of the best places to watch the sunset. Mooring capacity is more than 160 boats. It is the place of arrival of regattas of the Río de la Plata.
Bastión del Carmen
Structure built in 1880, in its beginnings used as a platform of artillery and after the battles as a factory of soap and then as a laundry of wool and tannery. The Ministry of Education and Culture bought the bastion from Argentine private company to transform it into a cultural center.
The property, a garden on the Rio de la Plata banks, houses the different constructions in a dispersed way: the theater with capacity for 340 spectators, a slender chimney of the old factory, a brick arch at the river’s edge (where the start of the pier was), remains of the old wall, a foyer as an exhibition hall and offices on Rivadavia street. The Garden with a beautiful view of the Yacht Harbor and the rest of the bay offers an alternative for outdoor cultural activities. The Cultural Center Bastion del Carmen, is a benchmark of all cultural expressions of the department of Colonia.
Real de San Carlos an Plaza de Toros
The Real de San Carlos is the area on the outskirts of Colonia del Sacramento. Its name is a tribute to King Carlos III of Spain. It is today a residential area, with many weekend houses, where you can enjoy quiet beaches on the Rio de la Plata. The Real de San Carlos was developed at the beginning of the 20th century, at the initiative of the Argentine businessman Nicolas Mihanovich, as a tourist complex, today on unfortunate neglect, that had a hotel-casino, a bullring unique in the Río de la Plata, a Basque pelota court and its own power station. For the purpose of building that complex, Mihanovich was connected in Europe with Eiffel Engineer, who recommended a group of Italians for the job. The Bullring was built with the metal parts arrived from France. It was inaugurated on January of 1910 with eight official bullfights, although there were more than eighty, as it continued to use the space for shows still under the prohibition of bullfighting by President José Batlle y Ordóñez.
Opposite the square is the Railway Museum: the old railway station has been recreated on the premises, the wagon used as a dining room, operates nowadays as a restaurant
Photos: Eli Sirlin