In the center of Montevideo’s main square stands an imposing statue of José Artigas, one of Uruguay’s most celebrated national heroes. And beneath this statue lies his mausoleum, dutifully protected by a guard of honor.
At the center of Plaza Independencia, the most important square in the capital city, you’ll find a bronze equestrian statue of Artigas, the soldier and revolutionary leader who is regarded as the father of Uruguayan independence. The statue stands atop a large, grey granite base, the entire monument weighing 30 tons and reaching a height of 56 feet.
You can’t miss it when you enter the plaza, but you might miss what’s hidden beneath it: the Mausoleo de Artigas, an underground chamber that holds the remains of the revolutionary leader.
The mausoleum was inaugurated in 1977 during the de facto presidency of Aparicio Méndez, a non-democratically elected politician who rose to power during the civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay. Understandably, there was no shortage of irony when a political figure like Méndez inaugurated the mausoleum of a soldier who fought for freedom and democracy.
And because the mausoleum was opened during a dictatorship, the tomb itself is conspicuously short of the quotes that Artigas was so famous for. The interior walls of the somber, dimly lit mausoleum are covered with inscriptions in reference to the events of Artigas’ life, but his actual words were deemed too inflammatory by the dictatorship, and so none appear in the mausoleum.
At the heart of the mausoleum stands the urn containing the remains of Artigas, housed in glass and illuminated from above. Day and night, the remains are guarded by the Blandengues de Artigas, a military regiment named in honor of Artigas in 1910. Two Blandengues always stand on guard at either side of the urn, watching over the hallowed resting place of Uruguay’s national hero.