Latin American Studies Montevideo
Daniel Renfrew
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0261


Montevideo was founded by Spanish colonists in 1724 to thwart Portuguese incursions into Montevideo Bay. It was established as a military buffer and a port city, situated for over a century in an uneasy middle ground between empires. In 1830, Montevideo became the capital of the newly independent Oriental Republic of Uruguay. It has always been the demographic center of the country. By 1930 Montevideo was home to one-third of the country’s population, becoming Latin America’s most “primary” city in terms of share of total population. Since its founding the city has been the national center of politics, finance, media, culture, sports, and the arts. In the 20th century, Uruguay became known as the “Switzerland of South America” and Montevideo the “Athens of the River Plate.” Montevideo in the 20th century was a cosmopolitan and progressive city; a vibrant center of culture and the arts boasting modern infrastructure, a seaside boardwalk, verdant parks, and architecture blending colonial with art deco and art nouveau design. The years following the world wars, however, were beset by growing poverty, socioeconomic polarization, and political instability, the latter reaching a crescendo through the Tupamaro urban guerrilla uprising. The government responded with authoritarian counter-insurgency measures, setting the stage for the military’s takeover in a dictatorship that lasted from 1973 to 1985. With the return of democracy, new social movements advocated for urban services and justice for the victims of state terror. By the 1990s, neoliberalism and globalization had significantly altered the city’s social and spatial physiognomy. New, extreme forms of marginality in shantytowns ringing the city inversely mirrored the hyper-consumerism and conspicuous wealth of the upper-class neighborhoods of the eastern coast. Crime, insecurity, drugs, and violence came to dominate urban realities and sensibilities. The leftist Frente Amplio came to municipal power in 1989, and nationally in 2004, seeking to create a more democratic, participatory, and just city and country, although with mixed results. This article is organized thematically, although it follows a loose chronological order as well. Most of the cited works are in Spanish and written by Uruguayan authors, reflecting the relative dearth of English-language studies of Montevideo. Almost all of the entries are books, with some journal articles published in English also included. It is an interdisciplinary collection mostly drawn from the social sciences and humanities. It should be noted that it is often hard to parse out the difference in studies about “Uruguay” versus “Montevideo.” Often the former assumes the latter, and with half of the country’s population and constituting the nation’s hub, Montevideo is almost always part of any analysis of Uruguay. Nevertheless, the attempt was made to provide a more limited number of generalist works on Uruguay that include or assume Montevideo, while foregrounding those studies that take the city as a primary setting and focus of analysis.

General Overviews

As noted in the introduction, much of the literature on Uruguay encompasses Montevideo, explicitly or implicitly. There are, nevertheless, many key or iconic Montevideo-centered works on urban architecture, design, history, and demographics. Intendencia Municipal de Montevideo 1955 provides photographs, images, maps, and traveler accounts of the city from colonial times to the early 20th century. The Centro de Fotografía de Montevideo houses a comprehensive web-based repository and visual archive of the city. Barrios Pintos and Abadie 1990–2001 offers an overview of the diverse history and general characteristics of the city’s neighborhoods, Michelena 1986 of the city’s iconic cafes, and Intendencia Municipal de Montevideo 1976 (with later editions in 1976 and 1986) of the city’s most important statues and monuments. From the perspectives of architectural history and planning, Carmona and Gómez 1999 examines the historical relationship of urban planning and design to actual demographic growth and city development, while Craciun, et al. 2014 documents the intersection of architecture, urban planning, and politics in the forging of a uniquely Uruguayan modernity. Turning to more political and critical works, Rama 1996 is a highly regarded book theorizing the relationship of “lettered” culture to cities and state power, within which Montevideo is included. Alemán 2012, Grupo de Estudios Urbanos 1983, and Ribeiro 1997 in different ways present both the promises and failures of the city as it has changed over time.

  • Alemán, Laura. Hilos rotos: Ideas de ciudad en el Uruguay del siglo veinte. Montevideo, Uruguay: Casa Editorial Hum, 2012.

    Situated between architectural theory and philosophy, examines the “idea of the city” through paradigm shifts and changing styles in 20th-century Uruguay, critiquing the logic of replacement and erasure that follows fashionable foreign hegemonic models at the expense of local memory and tradition.

  • Barrios Pintos, Aníbal, and Washington Reyes Abadie. Los barrios de Montevideo. 10 vols. Montevideo, Uruguay: Intendencia Municipal de Montevideo, 1990–2001.

    A chronicle over ten volumes of the histories, demographics, architecture, plazas, social clubs, and other details of each of Montevideo’s neighborhoods. An iconic reference volume published by the Montevideo municipal government.

  • Carmona, Liliana, and María Julia Gómez. Montevideo, proceso planificador y crecimientos. Montevideo, Uruguay: Facultad de Arquitectura, 1999.

    A study informing Montevideo’s new Territorial Ordering plan of the 1990s. The authors compare and contrast various urban planning models, regulations, and processes with the “actual” development and growth of the city. The work ranges historically from colonial origins through the 1980s.

  • Centro de Fotografía de Montevideo.

    A municipal government-sponsored site and indispensable source of current and archival photography, thematic exhibits, and educational workshops. Includes archives related to key historical periods, as well as thematic sections dedicated to the urban built environment, including plazas, neighborhoods, and monuments.

  • Craciun, Martín, Jorge Gambini, Santiago Medero, Mary Méndez, Emilio Nisivoccia, and Jorge Nudelman. La aldea feliz: Episodios de la modernización en Uruguay. Montevideo, Uruguay: Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, Universidad de la República, 2014.

    Prepared for the Venice International Biennial of Architecture, the book chronicles the rise and imprint of architectural modernism in Uruguay. Highlights key architectural figures such as Vilamajó, Dieste, Scasso, Payssé, Cravotto, and Ricaldoni, and their role in creating monumental architecture, seafront high rises, medical centers, university buildings, banks, and school parks. Argues architecture played a central role in fostering progress and social change under 20th-century Uruguayan modernization.

  • Grupo de Estudios Urbanos. Una Ciudad sin Memoria. Montevideo, Uruguay: Ediciones de la Banda Oriental, 1983.

    First produced as an audiovisual documentary by the Urban Studies Group led by architect and future Montevideo Frente Amplio mayor Mariano Arana. The documentary and book gained cult status as a subversive critique of military rule. The authors denounce the military’s modernization ideologies, the role of private capital in urban development, and the rampant destruction of architectural patrimony, calling instead for a valuing of the collective past founded in ideals of democratic citizenship.

  • Intendencia Municipal de Montevideo. Iconografía de Montevideo. Montevideo, Uruguay: IMM, 1955.

    Curated compilation of historic images, maps, and photographs of Montevideo from the colonial to the modern period, 1719–1912. A second edition was published in 1976. The third edition (2001) includes chronicles and accounts of the city over the centuries from foreign travelers.

  • Intendencia Municipal de Montevideo. Estatuas y monumentos de Montevideo. Montevideo: IMM, 1976.

    Originally published in 1976 on the 250th anniversary of Montevideo’s founding, this book published by the municipal government offers a photographic catalogue of the city’s major monuments and statues. A second updated edition was published in 1986.

  • Michelena, Alejandro. Los Cafés Montevideanos. Montevideo, Uruguay: Arca, 1986.

    Overview of some of the most historic and emblematic cafés of Montevideo, including for example Tupí Viejo, el Brasilero, el Mincho, Sorocabana, and the Gran Sportman. Situates cafés within their changing historical contexts and presents them as central to the intellectual and cultural life of the (mostly middle- and upper-class) city.

  • Rama, Angel. The Lettered City. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

    A translation of the posthumous book by the renowned Uruguayan literary critic and cultural theorist, it analyzes the role of intellectuals and texts in the construction of modern states, cities, and forms of governance across Latin America. With a time period ranging from the colonial period through the early 20th century, this widely acclaimed and ambitious work theorizes the interweaving of cities, various forms of literacy, and state power.

  • Ribeiro, Ana. Montevideo: La Malbienquerida. Montevideo, Uruguay: Academia Nacional de Letras, 1997.

    In this lyrical tribute to an “enchanted” Montevideo, historian Ribeiro uses anecdotes and vignettes to comment upon the changing identity of the city over time. The book begins with the walled colonial city, moving through the mythical and cosmopolitan early-20th-century high period, through mid-century economic stagnation and decline, the brutality, exile and “inxile” (internal exile) of the dictatorship period, and finally the urban “circus” of postmodern times.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.