Montevideo, on the Río de la Plata on the southern coast, is home to nearly half of Uruguay's population and is the nation's only major city. As Uruguay's cultural, political and economical centre, the spacious and well laid out city boasts a good number of monuments, museums and impressive architecture. Landmarks include the Cerro (hill) after which Montevideo (Spanish for 'I see a hill') is named; the mausoleum of José Gervasio Artigas, the Uruguayan national hero; the Cabildo, formerly the seat of the national legislature; and an ornate cathedral (1790-1804). Furthermore, there are sidewalk cafés, fine restaurants, chic shops, casinos and miles of clean beaches. Many tourists visit the nearby beach resorts like Punta del Este.
Montevideo was founded by the Spanish governor of Buenos Aires in 1726 to secure the area against Portuguese infiltration from Brazil. It changed hands frequently during the Spanish-Portuguese rivalry of the early 19th century, until, partly through British intervention, it became the capital of independent Uruguay, established in 1828 as a buffer state between Spanish Argentina and Portuguese Brazil. It was besieged for nine years (1843-1851) during Uruguay's civil war but at the same time became one of the principal ports of South America. Large numbers of Europeans, especially Spaniards and Italians, migrated to the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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