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Uruguay’s Coastal Forts and the War for Independence

The history of the forts in our riding region on Uruguay’s coast brings to light not only the Spanish Empire and their control of the country, but also Portugal, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, and later, Giuseppe Garibaldi who helped in the fight for independence and would go on to become one of the founding fathers of Italy.

Two forts on the coast were built by one nationality and then taken by another, then retaken… in a period of unrest that preempted the Independence of Uruguay in 1828.

The Spanish and the Portuguese struggled for control of the country’s postcard perfect coast – the north bank of the important Rio de la Plata. Portugal established Colonia and used it as a base for smuggling goods into Buenos Aires and Spain responded with Montevideo, a stronghold for their commercial interests in the country.

The San Miguel Fort, Uruguay-Brazil border

First started by the Spanish in 1734, the San Miguel Fort was designed to establish the Spanish Empire’s claim to the southern region of Latin America. The Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was the fourth and last viceroyalty that Spain created to control the area that is now Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The fort preceded the move, and was taken by Portugal three years into construction.

Control of San Miguel would go back and forth during the fighting. Today, it is a centerpiece of the San Miguel National Park near Chuy, where the restored fort sits amid the natural opulence of the area that includes forests, wetlands, beaches, lagoon, rivers and rocky lookout points.

Santa Theresa Fortress

Built by the Portuguese and then captured by the Spanish, the coastal Santa Theresa Fortress is 35km from the Brazilian Border and within sight of San Miguel Fort, making it of great strategic significance to the two countries battling for control during the 18th century.

Today the fortress is part of the Santa Theresa National Park, where secluded beaches hold shipwrecks on their shores and lagoons are home to flamingos feeding in the shallow waters.

During Uruguay’s war for independence, the fort and surrounding parklands were not as peaceful but a very cunning plan lost the Spaniards control of the fort at the hands of the forces seeking independence without a drop of blood being spilt– we will fill you in with the details on a tour.

Two figures that Alexandre Dumas found so fascinating, fought for the country’s freedom and were later written in as characters by this French author in his novel about the struggle, ‘The New Troy.’

Firstly, José Gervasio Artigas, a gaucho who grew up roaming the plains and is considered the father of Uruguay’s Independence, headed the ground forces into the city of Las Piedras and defeated the Spanish, a major victory for the revolution.

Secondly, Giuseppe Garibaldi who -exiled from Italy after a failed attempt to overthrow the government there - fled to South America. He was given the command of Uruguay’s navy during the war. His exploits, popularized by Damas’ book after independence, would lead him back to Italy to help overthrow the government and found what is now present-day Italy.

For ideas about travelling in Uruguay along its one-of-a-kind coast where whales migrate annually and small villages welcome riders, feel free to get in touch while checking out the tours we offer on our site.

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