Connecting Cuidad Vieja and the Centro, Independence Square is the heart of Montevideo. All that remains of the original walls of the Spanish fort is the Puerta de la Ciudadela, the triumphal gate to the Old City. In the center stands a 30-ton statue of General José Gervasio Artigas, the father of Uruguay and the founder of its 19th-century independence movement. At the base of the monument, polished granite stairs lead to an underground mausoleum that holds Artigas's remains. The mausoleum is a moving memorial: bold graphics chiseled in the walls of this giant space detail the feats of Artigas's life. Two uniformed guards dressed in period uniforms stand at solemn attention beside the urn in this uncanny vault. There's a changing of the guard every Friday at noon.
Towering over the north side of the plaza, the 26-story Palacio Salvo was the tallest building in South America when it inaugurated in 1928 (it's still one of the tallest buildings in Uruguay). Today this emblematic art deco edifice is simply an office building. It was here where the palace now stands that Gerardo Matos Rodríguez composed La Cumparsita, a famous tango that transformed into a Uruguayan cultural hymn. You can still hear strains playing around the building twice a day.