Sunday, March 30, 2008

Palacio Legislativo

This past Friday, we took a tour of the Legislative Palace of Uruguay, located here in Montevideo. The building itself is an awe inspiring construction. You’ll have to look up some pictures online ( it commands a large area and its marble columns at one of the entrances are impressive. There aren’t very many buildings in the area that are as built as high either. Its idea was born in the early 1900’s because the Legislature at that time didn’t have any official place to meet. They met in people’s houses and rented buildings for larger events. Actual construction began in 1908 and was overseen by an Italian architect giving the building its distinct design. They finished work in 1925 in time to celebrate the centennial of the country.
If it’s possible, the inside is even more remarkable. The first room that we entered is called something like the “Room of the Lost Steps” and it separates the halls of the Senators and the Representatives. Located in the center of the building, this room has ceilings, artwork, and design fit to be in some of the cathedrals that we have visited. This in itself is interesting when you remember that Uruguay is one of the most secularized countries in Latin America having gone through an extensive process beginning in the 19th century. The tour guide informed us that the
room was constructed entirely from 52 different kinds of marble, all taken from quarries in Uruguay. Above our heads there were also amazingly detailed mosaics (if I hadn’t known they were tiled I would have thought it was a painting!), beautiful stained glass windows imported from a artisan in Italy, and 24 k gold and crystal lamp stands. Next we moved to the ballroom, where everything is original, nothing being restored. The entire room was built with wood imported from Italy and at the center sat a huge Turkish rug and an enormous table carved from one piece of oak. We were also shown the library which is also completely handmade with wood furnishings including bookshelves of a type of rose wood claimed to be the most expensive wood in the world. It’s the 2nd largest library in Uruguay and is open to the public. It was cool for us to see some people actually in the room studying.
After being blow away by the architecture, we followed our guide to the rooms which the senators and representatives meet twice a week. It was kind of surreal to step onto the balcony and look into the area where the politicians sit. I’ve only seen scenes like it in the movies. Uruguay’s system of government is very similar to ours and has had tow major parties like us since its creation: the Red Party and the White Party. Only recently has a 3rd party emerged: the Broad Front, a liberal-socialist type party, which is the party of the current president. As they conduct meetings, the elected officials sit segregated with the older parties on the sides and the new Broad Front party in the middle. In the Representative chamber, there are 99 representatives, most of which are from Montevideo and there is also 1 Independent member elected. I don’t know exactly where he sits during meetings… One thing we noticed, were 2 coasters sitting on each of the desks. When
asked about these, the guide laughed and said they were for coffee and tea. She also said that the members are now allowed to drink their mate during meetings (they hadn’t always in the past) but that they haven’t gained the liberty of having 3 coasters on their desks…
Two more cultural things: First, Uruguay flies three flags in many places. One has a red diagonal on it: this was Artigas’ flag as he fought for independence from Spain. One has the inscription “Libertad o Muerte”, liberty or death: this was used by Lavalleja and the 33 Orientales (roughly “Revolutionaries”) when they returned from Buenos Aires to fight for independence from Brazil. The third is the current flag with alternating blue and white stripes on the right and a sun in the top left-hand corner. Second, the Uruguayan seal or shield is shown in many places. It is split into four sections each with a symbol: (going from top left, counter clockwise) Scales=justice, Horse=liberty, Ox=richness, and The Cerro(the highest point in Montevideo)=strength.

1 comment:

Karen said...

I loved reading your entry about the Legislative Palace, Colter. I am so forgetful that, even though I was ACTUALLY THERE with you all when we had this tour, I really enjoyed all the details. You write well, friend.