Let's visit Plaza de Toros and San Benito Chapel in Real de San Carlos and then we will summarize the visit to Colonia Antigua providing travel advises and tips for tourists.
Scroll down to the bottom of this page to see the gallery of pictures.
Colonia del Sacramento: Beyond Barrio Histórico
Iglesia San Benito (St. Benedict Church)
San Benito Church was established in 1761, which makes it the oldest church (chapel) in Uruguay. Its parochial documents reveal that the first baptism took place here on August 20 of that same year.
Initially called the Chapel of San Carlos, it was later “re-baptized” to honor St. Benedict of Palermo.
San Benito, also known as The Black Saint in reference to his Sicilian-Moorish origins (and dark skin color) is widely revered across South America.
During the Great War, however, the church was badly damaged and stripped of all its ornaments and sacred vessels. Even the church bells were removed, likely due to the army’s usual “appetite” for bronze.
In 1905, thanks to the efforts of local communities, the church was renovated to more or less its initial design (though the new roof is an exception). The church is located on Avenida Luis Alberto de Herrera in Real de San Carlos (not far from the Bullring).
The Plaza de Toros (the Bullring)
Left - Real de San Carlos' Bullring;
Right - Nearby beach :-).....
When the Plaza de Toros (the Bullring) in Real de San Carlos opened in January 1910, no one knew that its days were already numbered. The history of this colossal structure able to host about 10,000 spectators turned out to be “colorful’ but very short.
The Plaza de Toros was part of a larger project that the Argentinean shipping mogul, Nicolas Mihanovich, initiated to try to find new sources of revenue for his large fleet of steamers (the steamer industry was threatened by the rapid development of the railroad system).
Mihanovich decided to invest in a “tourist complex.” Thanks to the complex’s location across the waters of Rio de la Plata in a small, former military outpost, Real de San Carlos, Mihanovich tried to catch two birds with one stone – gain the revenue from the business itself (bullfighting was banned in Argentina at the time) and find new customers for his fleet of passenger ships.
The complex also included: a 3,000-seat “jai alai” court (a sort of “racquetball” game of Spanish (Basque) origins, with the racket replaced by a hand-held basket, commonly called a “pelota”), a horse-racing track, a luxury hotel and even a theater.
On the banks of the river next to the resort, Mihanovich built a pier for his vessels to ensure a steady influx of visitors from nearby Buenos Aires. From the pier, passengers were taking the mini-train directly to the Plaza de Toros or the hotel.
The Plaza de Toros had a circular arena with a diameter of about 50m (55 yards) surrounded by rows of boxes and two rows of bleachers resting on an iron frame and supported by an outer Moorish-style arched brick wall. The plaza also included the Chapel of the Virgen del Carmen, a restaurant and a platform for an orchestra.
The opening ceremony and first bullfight were postponed because “an explosive” fight erupted among the spectators, in a way moving the “corrida” from the main arena to the stands. The second opening attempt was much more successful, thanks to the famous Spanish toreadors Ricardo and Miguel Torres (aka “Bombita Grande” and “Bombita Chico,” respectively). Subsequent bullfights drew enormous crowds of spectators, and everyone looked forward to the bullrings’ bright future.
Although by most accounts Mihanovich made very clever business decisions, his timing regarding this deal could not have been worse. A bullfighting ban was introduced by the Uruguayan government just two years and eight bullfights after its inception.
Soon after that, in an attempt to save the complex, Mihanovich opened a casino on the same site, yet once again his plans were torpedoed – this time by the Argentinean government’s decision to impose an extra tax on gamblers. Finally, the economic crisis accompanying World War I sealed the destiny of the complex.
"Shopping Center" - few artisan shops and boutiques where you may come across interesting, fashionable items at reasonable prices.
Colonia del Sacramento - a place when time goes at much slower pace....
Today, the abandoned bullring on the outskirts of Colonia is no more than pieces of crumbling ruins. Due to its poor condition and danger of collapse, the structure is closed to visitors. Although not a part of Colonia’s Barrio Historico, this lonely, century-old Moorish-style structure located in the “middle of nowhere” is still worthy of visitors’ attention. The nearby beach with a snack bar offers an extra incentive to visit.
After many years of neglect, the “jai alai” stadium was renovated in 1974 for the World Cup of Pelota, hosted by Uruguay. But today, only the Real de San Carlos racetrack is still in use.
Getting There & Around
Although Colonia de Sacramento is accessible by land from about 160 km (100 miles) away Montevideo, most tourists arrive from nearby Buenos Aires, located only some 50 km (32 miles) across the Rio de la Plata.
The fast service by Buquebus from Puerto Madero makes the trip to Colonia in less than one hour. This short boat trip combined with an often-remarkable sunset over the La Plata waters during the evening return will make your voyage into the past an even more memorable odyssey.
Barrio Historico occupies a relatively small area, so the best way to get around is on foot, though there is one caveat: some streets’ original cobblestones remain from early colonial times. These quaint but uneven surfaces make walking difficult for most.
Also, the roots of the beautiful trees that line the streets have grown under and damaged many sidewalks, so be careful when walking, but take it gracefully as a part of your journey to the past.
For those who wish to see more than just Barrio Historico, several means of transport are available. If you can live one day without a car then bikes, scooters, golf carts and dune buggies are your best choices.
These means of transport are safe, offer much better accessibility than a car and are a lot of fun! You can rent these on the Avenue General Flores or through other rental offices. If you do feel you would rather rent a car, you may do so at the rental office next to the ferry terminal.
Although going to the beach may not be the main goal of your trip to Colonia, it will be difficult to not notice the area’s beautiful beaches. Almost the entire coastline comprising several kilometers (miles) from Colonia to Real de San Carlos and beyond offers lovely beaches – mostly empty during the weekdays (but weekends, of course, are a different story). Playas El Alamo, Oreja de Negro, El Balneario and Real de San Carlos are only a few.
Playa del Real de San Carlos
Actually, after emerging from Antigua Colonia’s colonial past and its atmosphere of peace and tranquility, you may feel ready to extend this part of your journey by immersing yourself in the clear waters of the beaches (remember, weekdays only)! Just think about those spectacular sunsets!
Gallery of Pictures and Goodbye Colonia Antigua...