Sacramento, Colonia del

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Sacramento, Colonia del

Colonia del Sacramento, a city in Uruguay on the north bank of the Río de la Plata, began as a settlement that became the focus of a territorial dispute between Portugal and Spain until the end of the eighteenth century. According to the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), the region was Spanish, and during the period when Portugal and Spain were united in one kingdom (1580–1640), a profitable commercial activity in meat, leather, and silver from Potosí in Upper Peru developed there. The king of Portugal, for geopolitical reasons, decided to establish a settlement in the area, and toward that end he influenced the Catholic Church to include the area in the bishopric of Rio de Janeiro, created in 1676. The king sent two expeditions to take possession of the river port and establish a settlement: the first attempt, led by Jorge Soares de Macedo, failed; the second, under the command of Manuel Lobos, was more successful, and in January 1680 he established the Portuguese settlement of Colônia do Sacramento. Soon after, José de Garro, then governor of Buenos Aires, ordered an attack on Colônia by 250 soldiers and 3,000 Indians. Lobo and his colonists surrendered later that year.

The hostilities were accompanied by intense diplomatic negotiations. The Treaty of Lisbon (1700) specified that the colony, reoccupied in 1683, belonged to the Portuguese kingdom. Four years later the colony reverted to Spain, but the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) returned it to Portugal. The Treaty of Madrid (1750) once again restored Colonia to Spain. Finally the Treaty of San Ildefonso (1777) fixed Lagoa Mirim, and not the Río de la Plata, as the southern border of Brazil. Because of this, Colônia returned to being a Spanish colony.

After thriving as an alternative port to Buenos Aires in the colonial period, Colonia del Sacramento became, through the efforts of Spanish colonists, a commercial center for a rich agricultural and livestock-raising region. The town prospered in the nineteenth century, becoming the capital of the Department of Colonia, one of the richest in the republic of Uruguay. In the early twentieth century, Colonia became a tourist attraction for porteños willing to take the twenty-five-mile boat trip across the Río de la Plata. Argentine investors built a hotel with a casino, a bullring, and a small railway connected to the port, but the project failed because the Argentine government imposed a heavy tax on all passengers disembarking in Colonia. An American resident, who brought the first electricity-generating plant and the first telephone to the region, planned a bridge to Buenos Aires. That project is periodically updated and revived, but the bridge has never been built. A plan for a bridge was approved by both the Argentine and Uruguayan governments in the late 1990s, but a regional financial crisis caused the project to be abandoned. In the 1960s Argentines began to buy properties in the marginal Barrio Histórico and restore houses dating back to the eighteenth century, and a new hotel-casino was built for international visitors. Colonia del Sacramento, with dozens of hotels and restaurants, is now the third-most-active center for tourism in Uruguay, attracting weekend visitors and vacationers. Its population is approximately 20,000.

See alsoRío de la Plata; San Ildefonso, Treaty of (1777); Tordesillas, Treaty of (1494); Uruguay: The Twentieth Century.


Almeida, Luís Ferrand de. A Colônia do Sacramento na época da sucessão de Espanha. Coimbra, Portugal: Universidade de Coimbra, 1973.

Vianna, Hélio. Histôria diplomática do Brasil. São Paulo, Brazil: Edições Melhoramentos, 1958.

                                         Edward L. Shaw

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Sacramento, Colonia del

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