A piece of Switzerland in Uruguay
Uruguay, Colonia Suiza, Nueva Helvcetica, immigrants
Have you ever heard of Swiss cheese made in Uruguay? No? Believe it or not, it exits, and is produced in a small town, some 120 kilometers from Montevideo on Route 1, called Colonia Suiza – or the Swiss Colony. It may not taste exactly like the one made in Switzerland, but it is authentic, made by descendents of Swiss pioneers that settled here in the early 1860s.
On our tour of the city we stumbled upon the Centro Cultural, and ran into Alvaro Fischer Guglemier, the Secretary of Museo Archivo Regional of Colonia Suiza, who not only was so kind as to open the museum doors for DIVA, but also gave us an exclusive interview.
DIVA: Please tell us about Colonia Suiza?
Alvaro: The first European immigrants started arrive here in 1861, after the Swiss constitution caused a mass exodus in 1848, due in part to the fact that Swiss nationals no longer could be hired as mercenaries by foreign powers, and in part to the economic crises in the Old Continent. The first wave of Swiss immigrants came in 1861, and was soon followed by Germans, Austrian and French - arrived on 25 April 1862, known today as the date of the “foundation” of Colonia Suiza. Thirty-two years later, on 26 May 1894, Colonia Suiza was declared a town by law.
DIVA: Walking around, we have seen picturesque Swiss wooden houses, Farmacia Berna, Kiosco Helvetico, Heladeria Suiza, and Centro Helvetico – how do you explain this close cultural ties to Europe more than 100 years after the first immigrants settled here?
Alvaro: With its 11,000 in habitants, Colonia Suiza is a small town, with a proud history and heritage. Our founders were technological savvy – they brought the first harvesting machine to Uruguay, built the first windmills in the region, and developed this area into the first tourist zone in Uruguay. Colonia Suiza is the home to one of the first hotels in the country - Nueva Helvcetica. However, it was Hotel Suizo, which from its establishment in 1872 – known today as “The Farm (Granja) Hotel Suizo” started promoting tourism in Uruguay. Hotel Prado opened its doors shortly thereafter, and was soon followed by Hotel Central in 1906 and hotel Nirvana in the 1940s.
Visitors like our small town, full of hotels, restaurants, camping areas, the exceptionally clean streets, and most of all its inhabitants, their hospitality and kindness. Besides, the countryside is beautiful, full of hiking trails, lagoons, fish farm station located on Lake Moreno Este, and fine fruit orchards, where tourist can buy authentic regional preserves and other products.
Today Colonia Suiza is a modern rural community, full of dynamism combined with commercial and entrepreneurial spirit. We produce canned foods, jams and preserves and homemade fruit liqueurs, and also offer tourists a chance to sample traditional curanto, a typical Araucano dish made of meat and vegetables cooked over heated stones in a hole in the ground.
The strong European traditions have been embedded in this city over the years, with strong emphasis on the cultural traditions and artistic manifestations. Until WW II German, French and Italian were still spoken here. Now we are trying to reconnect with our European ancestry, and have opened a language school where these languages are being taught. It is also the first time we have a young student on scholarships in Switzerland.”
As I said thank you to my generous host, I looked at the photographs of these strong hardworking immigrants on the walls in this small museum, and could not do anything but to applaud their hard work and dedication in building a future for themselves and later generations in a country on the opposite side of the Globe, and leaving behind such an impressive legacy.