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MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY: Plano topografico de la ciudad y cercanias de Montevideo, en el que se demuestra las posiciones de las fuerzas de la plaza y las del ejército sitiador. Levantado por el Agrimensor. D. Pedro Pico.




An early and important separately issued map of Montevideo, showcasing the city during the Great Siege of Montevideo (1843-51), the seminal event of the Grande Guerra, or Uruguayan Civil War (1839-51), based upon original surveys by the military engineer Pedro Pico who was stationed in the besieged city, the map provides a stellar overview of the urban areas and environs, as well as detailing the locations of the front lines of the two opposing armies and their various forts and artillery positions.


Lithograph (Good, some light toning along vertical centerfold and marginal toning and chipping just entering neatline in places and with loss of imprint in lower left margin, old guard mounted to verso), 51 x 40.5 cm (20 x 16 inches).


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This rare, separately issued map depicts Montevideo and its environs during the Great Siege of Montevideo (1843-51), the central event of the Uruguayan Civil War, known locally as the Grande Guerra (1839-51).  It is based upon original mapping executed by Pedro Pico, a military engineer serving the forces that were besieged within Montevideo.


To set the backstory, in 1832, not long after Uruguay gained its independence (in 1828), a severe rift developed between the country’s founding fathers.  Over the 1830s, a low-grade conflict developed until it broke out into civil war, in 1839, between the Colorado party, led by Fructuoso Rivera (who served as President of Uruguay, 1830-4), and the Blanco party led by Manuel Oribe (who served as President, 1835-8).  As Uruguay was of great interest to international trade, foreign involvement escalated the conflict, with Brazil, Britain and France supporting the Colorados, while Argentina backed the Blancos.  Foreigners generally preferred the Colorados as they advocated an open economy, while the Blancos supported protectionism.


Oribe’s Blancos initially gained the upper hand, taking most the country and besieging Rivera’s Colorado forces and his foreign allies within Montevideo.  While the city could be occasionally accessed and resupplied by ship, it was entirely cut off from the rest of the country, hemmed in by the Blanco lines along a heavily armed battle front.  Montevideo would be besieged for eighth years, with the Blancos unable to break into the city and the Colorados unable to permeate the siege lines.


The Colorados benefitted from heavy foreign support, including a young Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought a part of the Italian Redshirts unit.  Montevideo was incredibly cosmopolitan, a census of 1843 recorded that the city had population of 30,000, with only about 10,000 being Uruguayans, and with 4,205 Italians, 3,406 Spaniards, 2,553 Argentines, 659 Portuguese, 606 English and 492 Brazilians.  The siege was a major internal media sensation, inspiring Alexandre Dumas to write the novel Montevideo, ou une nouvelle Troie (1850).


Focusing upon the present map, which was made a few years into the siege, it provides one of the earliest accurate, detailed printed renderings of Montevideo, based upon excellent scientific surveys.  Pico, a professional surveyor, served as a military engineer for the Colorados throughout the siege and his journal of the part of the event, “Diario llevado por don Pedro Pico del Cuerpo de ingenieros militares de la plaza, manuscrit, Montevideo” (1842) (Museo Histórico del Uruguay, Manuscritos, Acevedo, no. 71), remains a definitive historical source.


The map shows that Montevideo then occupied only the peninsula that today accounts for today’s core downtown, built upon a rational grid of streets.  The neck of the peninsula is protected by a line of fortifications, while beyond, the countryside unfolds, with elevation expressed by hachures, while numerous roads, villages and named private estates are marked.  Importantly, the battle lines of the siege are shown, with the inner line being the Colorados advance positions, and the outer being the Blanco front.  The map marks numerous forts and batteries on either side, indicating that while Montevideo was well defended, it was also tightly surrounded, so resulting in such a lengthy stalemate.


The map was published in 2 editions.  The first edition was issued in Montevideo in 1846, printed by the lithographer Mege y Lebas.  The second edition (present here) was published not long thereafter in Paris by the firm of N. Chaix et Cie., and while entirely redrawn, it is faithful the first issue in content and style, save that the legend for the battle lines is bilingual.  It is no surprise that an edition was issued in Paris, as the France’s involvement in the siege was truly significant.


Both editions of the map are rare.  We can locate 4 examples of the present Paris edition in institutional collections, held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (2 examples); University of Michigan; and the American Geographical Society Collection at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


While the map was separately issued, the present example is folded and has a guard mounted to the verso along the vertical centrefold, suggesting that it may have once been bound as a supplement in some kind of portfolio or printed work.  Interestingly, one of the examples held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France was also at one point bound within a French parliamentary paper.

The Trials, Tribulation and Rise of Montevideo

San Felipe y Santiago de Montevideo was founded in 1724 by the Spanish on a fine natural harbour on the north side of the Río de la Plata Estuary.  Initially populated by fifty families from Galicia and the Canary Islands, Montevideo was intended to be a simple buffer fortress to keep the Portuguese, from Brazil, out of the area, preserving Spain’s control over Buenos Aires and the Estuary.  Over the coming decades, the town experienced steady growth, as mariners preferred Montevideo’s harbour to that of Buenos Aires, causing a rivalry between the two cities.  In 1776, Montevideo received a great boost when it was selected as the Armada Real’s principal naval base (Real Apostadero de Marina) for the South Atlantic.  By the end of the century, the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) had developed on the peninsula located along the southern side of the harbour.

The first half of the 19th Century was unkind to Montevideo, as the Banda Oriental, the region that what would become Uruguay, was continually swept up by political instability and warfare.  The city was variously invaded, besieged and contested by several different parties during the era of the Napoleonic Wars and the Latin American Wars of Independence, of which the brief British occupation of the city in 1807 was especially memorable.  The Banda Oriental was annexed to Brazil in 1816, something resented by Montevideo’s majority Spanish-speaking population.  However, the region eventually won its independence, founding the new República Oriental del Uruguay in 1828, with Montevideo as its capital.

For a moment, all was looking up for Montevideo.  The city walls were demolished in 1829, with grand plans to expand the city into the Ciudad Nueva.  However, this was not to be – at least not for many years.  Uruguay quickly descended into internal discord, leading to the Guerra Grande (1843-51), during which Montevideo was besieged for eight years, only occasionally receiving provisions from the sea.

Following the war, Montevideo experienced steady growth and gained many modern improvements.  Scheduled stagecoach lines connected the city to the rest of the country from 1853, and gas streetlights were introduced shortly thereafter.  A modern sewer system as constructed from 1854 to 1861 and by 1866, Montevideo was connected to Buenos Aires by a telegraph line.  By this time, the building out of the Ciudad Nueva was progressing a strong pace and, in 1868, the community of Villa del Cerro was established at the other end of Montevideo Bay.  That same year the Compañía de Tranvías al Paso del Molino y Cerro established a system of horse-drawn trams across the city, of which its subsequently expanded network is depicted on the present map.  The railway arrived in Montevideo in 1869 and, during the following years, the barrios of Colón, Nuevo París and La Comercial were founded.  By 1877, Montevideo had a population of around 90,000.

In the period after the creation of the present map, Montevideo continued to grow rapidly.  In 1878, the Bulevar Circunvalación was built (later renamed Artigas Boulevard) which framed the development around the east end of the bay.  In 1882, Montevideo installed its first telephone lines and, in 1886, its first electric streetlights.

After recovering from a brief recession brought about by the collapse of Baring’s Bank (a prime underwriter of investment in Uruguay), Montevideo resumed its expansion.  The new port was built in 1894 and the Central Railway Station was completed in 1897.

In 1903, José Batlle y Ordoñez was elected president, ushering in a generation of economic prosperity and relative political stability for Uruguay.  Montevideo saw mass immigration from Europe (particularly from Italy and Germany) and great foreign investment.  From 1900 to 1930, Montevideo’s population doubled from 250,000 to 500,000, fuelling an intense and sustained building boom, which resulted in many Art Nouveau and Art Deco masterpieces.  The good times would roll through Montevideo hosting the first Football World Cup in 1930, after which the Great Depression dampened the city’s economy.

References: Bibliothèque nationale de France (2 examples): GED-7693 and Ge FF 3252; University of Michigan: Maps 1-D-1846 Pi; AGS Wisconsin-Milwaukee: Rare Maps 266-d .M66 B-1846; OCLC: 495031113, 84431464, 494918781.

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