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The culture of Uruguay is diverse in its nature since the nation's population is one of multicultural origins. Uruguay has a legacy of artistic and literary traditions, especially for its small size. The contribution of its alternating conquerors, Spain and Portugal, and diverse immigrants – Italians, Germans, Swiss, Russians, Jews, and Armenians, among others – has resulted in traditions that integrate this diversity with the indigenous people or Charrúa elements. Uruguay has century-old remains and fortresses of the colonial era. Its cities have a rich architectural heritage, and a number of writers, artists, and musicians. Carnaval and candombe are the most important examples of African influence by slaves, as well as Umbanda religious beliefs and practices. Guarani traditions can be seen in the national drink, mate. The folk and popular music of Uruguay shares with Argentina not only its gaucho roots, but also the tango.
Well-known Uruguayan painters include realists such as Juan Manuel Blanes, constructivists such as Joaquín Torres García, nativists like Carlos María Herrera, post-impressionists such as Pedro Figari and Felipe Seade, abstract artists such as Carlos Páez Vilaró, and numerous others.
Well-known sculptors include realists Pablo Atchugarry, José Belloni, and José Luis Zorrilla de San Martín, as well as contemporary sculptors such as Juan José Calandria, Águeda Dicancro, Hugo Nantes, Claudio Silveira Silva, Mariví Ugolino, and Carlos Páez Vilaró, who created an internationally renowned "livable sculpture", Casapueblo.
Uruguayans enjoy music such as tango, folk, and waltz as well as local forms such as candombe, milonga and murga. Both tango and candombe have been recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Uruguay's annual Carnival is a major event with many unique features distinguishing it from those of its neighbours. Rock, jazz, pop and other international genres also enjoy great popularity in Uruguay.
One of Uruguay's most famous works of literature is Ariel by José Enrique Rodó (1871–1917). Written in 1900, the book deals with the need to maintain spiritual values while pursuing material and technical progress. Florencio Sánchez (1875–1910) wrote plays about social problems that are still performed today. Juan Zorrilla de San Martín (1855–1931) wrote epic poems about Uruguayan history (notably Tabaré). Juana de Ibarbourou (1895–1979) and Delmira Agustini (1866–1914) were also notable poets. Modern Uruguayan writers include Juan Carlos Onetti (author of No Man's Land and The Shipyard), novelist Mario Benedetti, social critic Eduardo Galeano, and Mario Jesús Moraes.
Uruguay is South America's most secular country. It has no official religion and church and state are separate. Religious freedom is guaranteed. About 66% of all Uruguayans are Roman Catholics. Most Uruguayans baptize their children and marry in churches, but don't attend church that often. There is a small Jewish community in Montevideo (about 1% of the population), as well as several Evangelical Protestant groups (about 2%). Macumba and Umbanda, religions of Afro-Brazilian origin, are currently the fastest-growing religions in Uruguay. There are a few Christian missionary organizations in Uruguay, such as Serve the City (Run by Matthew Daniels).
Spanish is the official language of Uruguay, and is spoken by almost all of the population. English is common in the business world, though it is a minority language, as are French and Italian. Other languages include Portuguese and Portuñol, a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. Both are present in northern regions near the Brazilian border.
Uruguayans rival only neighboring Argentina in their consumption of beef, primarily at gatherings known in the continent as the asado. The parrillada (beef platter), chivito (a substantial steak sandwich), and pasta are the national dishes. The latter is due to Uruguay's many Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other Uruguayan dishes include morcilla dulce (a type of blood sausage cooked with ground orange fruit, orange peel, and walnuts) and milanesa (a veal breaded cutlet similar to the German Wienerschnitzel). Snacks include olímpicos (club sandwiches), húngaras (spicy sausage in a hot dog roll), and masas surtidas (bite-sized pastries). Typical drinks include mate, tea, clericó (a mixture of white wine and fruit juice), and medio y medio (part sparkling wine and part white wine).
Plantings of Tannat (also known in Uruguay as Harriague) have been increasing in Uruguay each year as that country's wine industry develops, and the country is considered the second most notable Tannat region after Madiran, France. The Tannat wines produced here are characterized by more elegant and softer tannins and blackberry fruit notes. Vineyards in Uruguay have begun to distinguish between the "old vines" that are descendants from the original cuttings brought over from Europe and the new clones being produced today. The newer vines tend to produce more powerful wines with a higher alcohol level, but less acidity and complex fruit characteristics. Some wineries utilize both vines to make blends. Now the wines typically spend about 20 months in oak prior to release. Today it is often blended with Pinot noir and Merlot, and is made in a variety of styles including those reminiscent of Port and Beaujolais.
Roughly 1/3 of Uruguayan adults smoke tobacco, according to Uruguayan research groups. On March 1, 2006, a law went into effect banning smoking in all enclosed public spaces in Uruguay, including restaurants and bars, among the toughest smoking bans worldwide and the strictest in Latin America. The penalty for businesses that allow smoking is a fine of roughly US $1,100 or a three-day closure. One opinion poll found that 70% of smokers supported the ban. Current President of Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez, is a medic doctor specializing in cancer treatment.