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Isla de Flores Cultural Landscape and its fluvio-marine context

Date of Submission: 23/01/2015
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Uruguay to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
River Plate, Oriental Republic of Uruguay
Coordinates: S34 56 45 W55 55 56
Ref.: 5969

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The name of Isla de Flores Cultural Landscape and its fluvio-marine context stems from the interpretation of different factors such as the traces of human occupation, the geographical context and the patterns of land use, the fluvio-marine context, the use of the different site resources, the former impact of the migrant population, the remaining memory present in different testimonial elements, the materialized marks of ideas and concepts of progress and the way of living, etc. Its general description is therefore organized according to the following topics:

a) In terms of geography and environment, the island is located in a vast ecotone of high biological diversity and is part of the Subtropical Convergence System (among ocean waters of subtropical origin) and the Subantarctic System (Malvinas current, with an important influence of the River Pate). The physical and biotic conditions of this area are characterized by its location within the River Plate fluvio-marine coastal context, where both its insular nature and its current low level of anthropogenesis stand out. Its rocky shores (metamorphic amphibolite in shades of gray with clear quartz lines) and the shoals that extend underwater with variable but scant depth. During low and high tide periods two or three sectors (islets) can be identified in the area, with heights that range from 8 to 13 mts to the W and NE respectively. The climate of the area has an average annual temperature of.16 ° C and a rainfall of 1300 mm. Winds frequently blow from SE, SW and NE with a steady annual intensity and a speed variation of approximately 5 m/s. An outstanding feature of this rare insular ensemble in our Atlantic and River Plate coasts is the fact that its fauna and flora have been subject to little or no human intervention. Thirty-one species of birds have been identified in the island, which belong to a wide coastal wildlife, ranging from resident to migratory species. Likewise, the aforementioned special anthropogenic conditions have favored the existence of crab breeding grounds with species of the type Chasmagnathus granulate, Cyrtograpsus angulatus and of halophilous vegetation formed by Juncus acutus and Spartina montevidensis.

b) In terms of history, the identification of the area traces back to the sixteenth century, before which it had never been inhabited. The island was identified by the first European pilots arriving in this part of the continent and there are different descriptions, notes and historical images. However, its regular occupation did not take place until the beginning of the nineteenth century as the marine signaling started to operate in 1828. In the nineteenth century the role of immigrants' alternate port, as preventive health area, would define it as a quarantine place marked by the ideology of disciplining the behaviors and controlling the body. The construction of lazaret and its permanence in the island for over 80 years, meant the creation of a profile of the latter and its association with certain medical imaginary.

c) In terms of the architecture, the lazaret was first designed in 1867 on account of the cholera and yellow fever outbreaks affecting Montevideo. The contagion risk was specially increased by sea traffic coming from Europe and Brazil. The main facilities of the three sets of pavilions, built in double height, with their courtyards designed for first, second and third class passengers, were inaugurated in 1869. The equipment pertaining to the health program, as well as the facilities for both the administration and the management of the island, were built in the following years through the end of the nineteenth century. In the first islet, known as "Isla Grande" -located at the west end of the formation- the following buildings joined the lazaret: the sanitation area, the command headquarters, the custom, the post and the water tanks that supply water for daily consumption. The cemetery and the hospital wards were located in the second islet and, in the third islet to the NE of the former, a second hospital and a doctor's house were established around the cremation chamber. The communication between these three islets was provided by a narrow gauge railway that ran alongside them, and connected the NE end through a metal bridge.

d) Isla de Flores is given the highest heritage consideration and protection since, pursuant to the Cultural Heritage Act 14040, it was declared National Historic Landmark by the National Cultural Heritage Committee (year 1976). The protection of said framework continues up to the present. Likewise, the terrestrial space and the river context associated to it are currently in the final stage for their inclusion in the National System of Protected Areas ("SNAP"). Once the island is included in the aforementioned, the cultural and natural landscape protection considerations shall be further strengthened.

e) Different agencies and institutions of the Uruguayan State, as well as civil organizations, participate in the administration of both the island and its fluvial context. The Cattle, Agriculture and Fishing Ministry is responsible for the general administration (as it does with all the islands belonging to the State). Said ministry carries out such task within the framework of the Specific Advisory Committee created for such purposes, with the additional participation of the following ministries: Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment; Home Affairs, National Defense, Education and Culture and Tourism and Sport. The Ministry of Transportation and Public Works is responsible for the maintenance of the operating buildings, like the lighthouse, as well as for the conservation tasks that are part of a broader action plan for abandoned buildings, launched in 2013. The Uruguayan State and the civil organization "Instituto de Ivestigaciones Historicas y Sociales del Plata" (Institute of Historical and Social Research "Del Plata") are committed to carry out the management plan for the island.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Isla de Flores is today one of the most complete witnesses - in terms of buildings associated to an insular space - of the health and medical control criteria affecting millions of immigrants worldwide during the nineteenth century. During this period, the greatest movement of masses in human history took place, thus creating one of the characteristics of that worldwide process known as modernization.

This material framework, within this natural insular space, turns out to be a singular, exceptional and representative area, characterized by the completeness of its constituent parts, even if a considerable degree of deterioration is identified thereof, as a result of the inevitable passage of time.

Criterion (ii): The island constituted an area of significant importance for the social interaction of various human groups, which came from different parts of the world, mainly from Europe. Said groups arrived in these lands under the illusion of "making America",. Their being newly arrived immigrants forced them to comply with specific health regulations and endure isolation. These circumstances evidence the nineteenth century view on discipline of the body and regulation of the behavior (M. Foucault).

Criterion (iv): The remaining architectures allow for a thorough understanding of the processes of isolation and occupation of certain areas of the island, which were determined according to the health level of each immigrant. There was a variety ranging from the "Immigrant's Hotel" to the incineration chambers where the bodies of those who could not survive a disease were burnt. Remains of machinery such as autoclaves, incineration chambers, cranes, etc., prove that the site, as a faithful representative of that time, boasted a state of the arts technology, an avant-garde spirit and material advance.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

In order to apply the concept of integrity, it is possible to state that in Isla de Flores Cultural Landscape and its fluvio-marine context architectural constituent parts can be clearly identified. This enables a perfect understanding of the health processes that took place therein —quarantine, hospital and cremation activities- as well as of the role of the different actors participating in the health, accommodation and surveillance functions.

The authenticity of the property must be analyzed and valued according to the passage of time ­transformations and adjustments to the reality of each moment- which has enabled its materialization, consolidation and permanence until the present. Although control and surveillance activities were always a priority, this is a cultural landscape determined by different moments and uses, where isolation has played a key role in the creation of its identity. As a result, the different stages of its development can be understood or even "read" in the existing material remains, only changed by the natural processes or historical development. The island has neither been subject to the impact -or collateral effects- of real state speculations nor for the presence of very large numbers of tourists. This observation is valid for all parts involved, even if they have changed by the passage of time.

Comparison with other similar properties

Two examples have been selected to present a comparative analysis of Isla de Flores:

  1. Lazaret of Corfu, Gouvia Bay, Greece.
  2. Lazaret of Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

These examples and Isla de Flores share insular characteristics and the presence of remaining buildings that enable us to better understand the healthcare processes, and the historical and functional transformations that they were subject to over time.

The Lazaret of Corfu was used as such from the sixteenth century. It is located in an insular space, northeast to Island of Corfu, in the Municipality of Kerkyra, not far from Island of Vidos. With an area of 71000 square meters, this is an uninhabited site currently administered by the Greek National Tourism Organization. Its premises were used for other activities —to some extent similar to those in Isla de Flores-since it was a military hospital and prison from 1798. It was a concentration camp during the Second World War. The overall conditions of the buildings are almost those of ruins, with relevant buildings highly damaged. Despite that, it plays an important touristic and cultural role, which is why it was declared National Historic Landmark in 1992. Even though it is older than Isla de Flores, there are not enough remains of the sixteenth century therein. On the other hand, this lazaret did not receive such concentration of immigrants.

The lazaret of Ilha Grande, also known as Praia Preta, was built in 1886 in order to establish the quarantine required for immigrants coming from zones affected by cholera. Similarly to what happened in Isla de Flores, it is possible to understand the distinction of social classes prevailing thereof, thus resulting in the existence of different types of care and comfort available throughout the various buildings designed. Some years later it was turned into a prison for political prisoners. This interesting ensemble underwent a process of high destruction when a governor of the island (Carlos Lacerda) decided to destroy the most representative buildings using heavy artillery. Ever since then, the site has been in ruins. As a result, and unlike the lazarets of Corfu or Isla de Flores, the reading of its operations and historical transformations is much more difficult. Some remains, covered by weeds, allow us to remember their presence in the site. Despite receiving the visit of tourists, it does not have any heritage protection.

In relation to both cases being compared, the complex of buildings in Isla de Flores has similarities but also important differences:
a) Compared to Corfu, Isla de Flores has sanitation facilities that are more representative of the modernity conceived in the nineteenth century. Isla de Flores portrays all the features of a new way of thinking and organizing body and behavior, this can be clearly seen in the remaining buildings. As for Corfu, its remains evoke different moments in the history of mankind, being older and having less relation to massive migratory processes.

b) Even though Ilha Grande and Isla de Flores were conceived during the same time period, their state of preservation is far from being the same. This is evident due to the lack of heritage protection regulations applied directly to the property.