This unusually fascinating map showcases Montevideo’s rapid metamorphosis from a provincial seaport into one of Latin America’s most vibrant and stylish metropolises. As such it is one of the era’s most dynamic images of urbanism, capturing Montevideo a third of the way into its three-generation long boom period. The map was made by Gabino Monegal, a respected military engineer, predicated on the best information from the city council and the Uruguayan army.
The monochrome map employees careful shading, labelling and a wide variety of symbols to convey a great wealth of information. The title of the map translates as: ‘Latest Plan of Montevideo expanded according to the official data with the projected delineation for the new city, indication of judicial buildings new numbering of the beginning of each block and general guide of Tramways, Ferro-Rails, etc.’, with the symbols employed on the map explained in the ‘Referencias’, on the right side.
Of great interest, the map shows the rapid actual growth, as well as the projected expansion of Montevideo. The Cuidad Vieja (Old City) occupies only the peninsula on the south side of the harbour, up to the Plaza de Independencia, the built blocks of which are identified in the ‘Edificado’ of the ‘Referencias’ as featuring leftward diagonal hatch marks. Beyond, is the Cuidad Nueva (New City), an incipient area of active expansion, the building blocks of which are identified with rightward diagonal hatch marks. Further beyond, the projected plan of the city, continuing the established system of neat grids and squares (including ‘novisima’ blocks that were already built out (filled with vertical hatch marks), plus blocks not yet laid out (bordered by intermittent lines)) is shown superimposed over the outgoing pastoral landscape, with its meandering country roads. Symbolically, the map shows the formal urban order of the rising, forward-looking Montevideo conquering the old rural Uruguay. All streets, both realized and proposed, are named. Notably, the proposed expanded layout for the city as shown here was almost precisely followed as built out over the next 20 years.
The map labels major military installations, including the locations of artillery and infantry companies. The map also delineates the rail lines which entered Montevideo, and which had been constructed over the previous eight years. Moreover, different lines are used to trace the routes of the eight different horse-tram lines that traversed the city, of which an explanation for each line appears below the map.
The ‘Referencias’ also employ letters to locate 26 major sites across Montevideo, including the famous Teatro Solís (built 1856); the university, churches, hospitals , markets, train stations, the city hall and the stock exchange.
Gabino Monegal: Cartographer of the New Uruguay
The author of the present map, who is identified on the work only as “G.M.”, is in fact Gabino Monegal, an important Uruguayan military engineer and cartographer. Born in 1848, he joined the army at a young age and fought in Paraguayan War (1864-70). During the conflict he received advanced training in surveying and draftsmanship, and subsequently became one of Uruguay’s leading surveyor-cartographers, executing both military and civilian commissions. His first major published work for public consumption was his excellent Mapa de la República Oriental del Uruguay (Montevideo, 1876), which was followed in quick succession by the present map of Montevideo. Monegal remained for many years thereafter in active army service, attaining the rank of colonel in 1887.
The Rise of Montevideo
San Felipe y Santiago de Montevideo was founded in 1724 by the Spanish on a fine natural harbour on the north side of the Río de la Plata Estuary. Initially populated by fifty families from Galicia and the Canary Islands, Montevideo was intended to be a simple buffer fortress to keep the Portuguese, from Brazil, out of the area, preserving Spain’s control over Buenos Aires and the Estuary. Over the coming decades, the town experienced steady growth, as mariners preferred Montevideo’s harbour to that of Buenos Aires, causing a rivalry between the two cities. In 1776, Montevideo received a great boost when it was selected as the Armada Real’s principal naval base (Real Apostadero de Marina) for the South Atlantic. By the end of the century, the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) had developed on the peninsula located along the southern side of the harbour.
The first half of the 19th Century was unkind to Montevideo, as the Banda Oriental, the region that what would become Uruguay, was continually swept up by political instability and warfare. The city was variously invaded, besieged and contested by several different parties during the era of the Napoleonic Wars and the Latin American Wars of Independence, of which the brief British occupation of the city in 1807 was especially memorable. The Banda Oriental was annexed to Brazil in 1816, something resented by Montevideo’s majority Spanish-speaking population. However, the region eventually won its independence, founding the new República Oriental del Uruguay in 1828, with Montevideo as its capital.
For a brief moment, all was looking up for Montevideo. The city walls were demolished in 1829, with grand plans to expand the city into the Ciudad Nueva. However, this was not to be – at least not for many years. Uruguay quickly descended into internal discord, leading to the Guerra Grande (1843-51), during which Montevideo was besieged for eight years, only occasionally receiving provisions from the sea.
Following the war, Montevideo experienced steady growth and gained many modern improvements. Scheduled stagecoach lines connected the city to the rest of the country from 1853, and gas streetlights were introduced shortly thereafter. A modern sewer system as constructed from 1854 to 1861 and by 1866, Montevideo was connected to Buenos Aires by a telegraph line. By this time, the building out of the Ciudad Nueva was progressing a strong pace and, in 1868, the community of Villa del Cerro was established at the other end of Montevideo Bay. That same year the Compañía de Tranvías al Paso del Molino y Cerro established a system of horse-drawn trams across he city, of which its subsequently expanded network is depicted on the present map. The railway arrived in Montevideo in 1869 and, during the following years, the barrios of Colón, Nuevo París and La Comercial were founded. By 1877, Montevideo had a population of around 90,000.
In the period after the creation of the present map, Montevideo continued to grow rapidly. In 1878, the Bulevar Circunvalación was built (later renamed Artigas Boulevard) which framed the development around the east end of the bay. In 1882, Montevideo installed its first telephone lines and, in 1886, its first electric street lights.
After recovering from a brief recession brought about by the collapse of Baring’s Bank (a prime underwriter of investment in Uruguay), Montevideo resumed its expansion. The new port was built in 1894 and the Central Railway Station was completed in 1897.
In 1903, José Batlle y Ordoñez was elected president, ushering in a generation of economic prosperity and relative political stability for Uruguay. Montevideo saw mass immigration from Europe (particularly from Italy and Germany) and great foreign investment. From 1900 to 1930, Montevideo’s population doubled from 250,000 to 500,000, fuelling an intense and sustained building boom, which resulted in many Art Nouveau and Art Deco masterpieces. The good times would roll through Montevideo hosting the first Football World Cup in 1930, after which the Great Depression dampened the city’s economy.
A Note on Rarity
Gabino Monegal’s map of Montevideo was produced only the single edition of 1877. The map is extremely rare today, we note only a single institutional example (Biblioteca Nacional de Uruguay), and cannot trace any sales records.
References: Biblioteca Nacional de Uruguay: I.02.043.G5374.M7.1877.M4; Inspección General de Marina (Uruguay), Catálogo del archivo cartográfico histórico (Montevideo, 1956), p. 273 (referring to the BNU example). Cf. [Monegal’s Biography:] J.M. Fernández Saldaña, Diccionario Uruguayo de Biografias 1810 – 1940 (Montevideo, 1945), pp. 842-4.