More than 40% of the population of Uruguay live in Montevideo, which may just have something to do with the fact that the standard of living there is reckoned to be the highest in Latin America! It is not solely the largest city in Uruguay but also the country's largest port and, indeed, the centre of the country's transport system with the majority of the main exports, which are animal hides, meat and other animal products, passing through it. A fairly prosperous city now, it has not always been so industrious and it in fact started its life as a garrison town occupied by the Spanish who were determined to hold back the Portuguese who were advancing upon them from Brazil. Subsequently the settlement has been occupied by Brazilians, Argentinians, Portuguese, British and Spanish forces, and all this disruption had a very unfortunate effect upon trade and population. Independence from Spain came in 1830 but the lot of the populace was not greatly improved as nearby countries attempted to extend their influence over it and this culminated in a siege by Uruguayan and Argentinian forces which were kept in check by the British and the French. All of this extra international attention actually attracted more traders to the now growing city, which became the principal port of the area and the British built an extensive rail network with Montevideo at its hub.

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One of the major claims to fame of Montevideo is that it was the scene of a major naval clash in the second world war between the German pocket battleship Graf Spee and the British and New Zealand navies represented by the cruisers Ajax, Exeter, and Achilles. After suffering heavy damage the battleship limped into Montevideo harbour but was placed under considerable diplomatic pressure to leave after a few hurried repairs have been carried out. Rather than face the guns of the British fleet, the commander, Captain Hans Langsdorff, decided to scuttle the ship in the estuary and he committed suicide a couple of days later rather than return to Germany and face a court martial. There is a small display of salvaged wreckage from the ship on the harbourfront.


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