The museums of Montevideo are of particular interest on two counts. First, there is universal free admission when, erratically of course, they are open. Secondly, they contain very little in the way of exhibits. Sparsely furnished rooms, oddly curated ephemera, scant information, in Spanish alone, and a complete absence of other visitors is the order of the day. However, none of this should deter the contemporary traveller or explorer. Far from it since, when one does finally secure entry, these 'Museo' are hidden gems in the fascinating crown of cultural history of Uruguay.
|at the entrance to the Museo de Juan Zorrilla de San Martin, Montevideo, Uruguay|
|the windows of the museum draped in lace curtains forming protection from the sunlight|
Our guide book promised that the Museo de Juan Zorrilla de San Martin, the summer house of the nineteenth century poet and diplomat of that name, would provide a café, a shop, an air-conditioned gallery space as well as a museum. Within sight of the sea, a pretty white Andalusia style villa, built in 1904 and expanded in 1921, and set within peaceful gardens hid amongst towering modern apartment blocks waiting to be discovered.
|a green oasis, the gardens of the museum, now overlooked by apartment blocks|
|a typical tiled fireplace to be found in the villa's principal reception room|
|the poet-diplomat's simply furnished bedroom on the ground floor of the villa|
Simply furnished and tenderly kept, complete with its private chapel, the villa proved to be a pure delight. It was as if the poet himself had merely stepped out for a moment and we were welcome guests free to roam at will. And, all around the house, a lush green 'hortus conclusus' decorated with vivid blue tiles, provided a calm and shady sanctuary from the searing heat of the summer sun. Peace was gently broken by a gentle fountain without a café, shop, gallery or other visitor to be seen.
|the two intrepid tourists of the day, camera to the ready, examine the books in the poet's library|
|the private chapel within the villa, an aspiration as yet, and most likely never, to be fulfilled|
Also whitewashed but in every other sense completely different, Casapueblo situated between the Uruguayan coastal towns of Piriapolis and Punta del Este, is visually eccentric and stunningly beautiful in its setting. A huge Gaudi-esque house-sculpture, it was begun in 1960 by the artist Carlos Páez Vilaró around a shack in which he was living. It grew first into a studio, then a house with accommodation for friends, and then finally, as it has become today, an hotel and museum as a monument to the artist and his work.
|the entrance to Casapueblo, the museum of the artist Carlos Páez Vilaró|
|Casapueblo, glimpsed in the background, overlooking the South Atlantic|
We risked life and limb to photograph the exterior of this extraordinary building, as it clings to the rock with the South Atlantic Ocean at its feet, avoiding as we did the hordes of day trippers and tourists and the greatly overpriced museum entrance fee.
|the dramatic situation of Casapueblo perched above the South Atlantic Ocean|
Take us back to Montevideo, we cried. How we had loved the vintage cars in the Museo del Automovil Club del Uruguay, especially the Armstrong Siddeley and the cache of trophies won by Hector Suppici Sedes, a Uruguayan racing driver killed in a crash in Chile in 1948. And what pleasure we had had in exploring the near bare rooms of the charming Palacio Taranco, housing as it does the Museo de Artes Decorativas.
But, no matter its free admission, we had given the Museo del Fútbol a miss!