Lying on the shores of the Rio de la Plata estuary, the Puerto de Montevideo is Uruguay's main city and capital. The Puerto de Montevideo handles almost all of the country's foreign trade, including its exports of meat, hides, and wool. The hub of the country's international transport network, it contains not only the port but an international airport and the crossroads of four railroads. In 2004, over 1.2 million people lived in the Puerto de Montevideo.
In addition to being a trade center, the Puerto de Montevideo supports many industries. It contains plants that process wool and pack and prepare meats. It also has factories that manufacture textiles, matches, soap, shoes, and clothing. The State's Administracion Nacional de Combustibles, Alcohol y Portland operates railway shops, cement works, oil refineries, and the electric power system, all located in Montevideo.
Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, Governor of Buenos Aires, founded the town of Montevideo in 1726 to stop the Portuguese advance from Brazil. The city began as a Spanish garrison. When the Spanish Crown granted the Puerto de Montevideo the right to be the region's only slave port, the Puerto de Montevideo experienced its first economic boom.
In 1776, it became Spain's main naval base in the South Atlantic with power over the Falklands and the Argentine coast. Near the end of the colonial era, the Puerto de Montevideo's merchants had a big part to play in Uruguay's independence. The Puerto de Montevideo became Uruguay's capital in 1828.
In the early 19th Century, Spanish, British, Argentine, Brazilian, and Portuguese armies occupied the Puerto de Montevideo. Both population and trade declined in those years. Even when Uruguay won its independence in 1830, stability was out of reach.
Under the influence of Brazilian, Argentine, and local groups, the Puerto de Montevideo was besieged and blockaded by a combined Uruguayan-Argentine army from 1843 until 1851. British and French forces helped the city's defenders. Despite these problems, the Puerto de Montevideo flourished and was the most important port in the Rio de la Plata region.
During World War II, the Puerto de Montevideo was a neutral port. In 1939 after the Battle of the Rio de la Plata (the first major naval battle of the war), the German Graf Spee retreated into the harbor, and the captain scuttled the ship rather than have it fall into Allied hands. Two days later, he committed suicide. In 2006, the ship's figurehead was salvaged.
Today, the Puerto de Montevideo is the only place where Uruguayans can get higher education at the 1849 University of the Republic (Spanish) . The Uruguay Workers' University (Spanish), opened in 1878, offers vocational training.