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The Río de la Plata (Spanish: "River of Silver") – always rendered River Plate in British English and the Commonwealth, and occasionally rendered [La] Plata River in other English-speaking countries – is the river formed by the combination of the Uruguay River and the Paraná Rivermarker. It is a funnel-shaped indentation on the southeastern coastline of South America, extending from the rivers' confluence to the Atlantic Oceanmarker.

The widest river in the world , the Río de la Plata grows from wide where the rivers meet to wide to the southeast where it opens on the Atlantic Ocean. It forms part of the border between Argentinamarker and Uruguaymarker, with the major ports and capital cities of Buenos Airesmarker in the southwest and Montevideomarker in the northeast.

The basin drained by the main tributaries of the Río de la Plata – the Uruguay and Paraná, and the important Paraná tributary, the Paraguay River – covers approximately one fifth of South America, including area in southeastern Boliviamarker, southern and central Brazilmarker, the entire nation of Paraguaymarker, most of Uruguay and northern Argentina. An estimated 57 million cubic meters (2 billion cubic feet) of silt is carried into the estuary each year, where the muddy waters are stirred up by winds and the tides. The shipping route from the Atlantic to Buenos Aires is kept open by constant dredging.


Coastline of Buenos Aires along the estuary
Satellite view of the estuary, looking southwards

The river's first sighting by a European was in 1516, when Spanish seaman Juan Díaz de Solís discovered it during his search for a passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceansmarker. He and a group of his men disembarked in what is today the Uruguayan Department of Coloniamarker and were attacked by the natives (probably Guaraní although for a long time the fact was adjudicated to the Charrúas). Only one of them survived, a 14-year-old cabin boy named Francisco del Puerto, allegedly because the natives' culture prevented them from killing elderly people, women and children.

Years later, from a ship commanded by Sebastián Caboto, "a huge native making signals and yelling from the coast" was seen; when some of the crew disembarked, they found Francisco del Puerto, brought up as a Charrúa warrior. He went back with the Spaniards and, after some time, returned to Uruguay, leaving no further trace of his whereabouts.

The area was visited by Francis Drake's fleet in early 1578, in the early stages of his circumnavigation. The first European colony was the city of Buenos Airesmarker, founded by Pedro de Mendoza on 2 February 1536, abandoned and founded again by Juan de Garay on 11 June 1580.

The Battle of the River Platemarker, an early World War II naval engagement between the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Speemarker and British ships, started several miles off the coast of the estuary. The German ship retired up the estuary and put into port at Montevideo. A few days later, rather than fight outgunned, she was scuttled in the estuary. These events were depicted in the 1956 British film The Battle of the River Plate – also known as The Pursuit of the Graf Spee – by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger,


The English name "River Plate" is not, as sometimes thought, a mistranslation, as "plate" was used extensively as a noun for "silver" or "gold" from the 12th century onwards, especially in Early Modern English and the estuary has been known as the River Plate or Plate River in English since at least the time of Francis Drake. A modern translation of the Spanish Río de la Plata is "Silver River", referring not to color but to the riches of the fabled Sierra de la Plata thought to lie upstream.

The English version of the name served as an inspiration for one of the Argentine's most important football clubs, Club Atlético River Plate.


The Río de la Plata is a habitat for the rare La Plata Dolphin, sea turtles (Caretta caretta, Chelonia mydas, and Dermochelys coriacea), and many species of fish.

See also



  1. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, online version.
  2. Sir Francis Drake’s Famous Voyage Round the World; A Narrative by Francis Pretty, one of Drake's Gentlemen at Arms


  • Piola, A. R., R. P. Matano, E. D. Palma, and E. D. Campos (2005): "The influence of the Plata River discharge on the western South Atlantic shelf". Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 32, L01603, doi:10.1029/2004GL021638.
  • Rela, Walter. España en el Río de la Plata: Descubrimiento y Poblamientos (1516-1588). Montevideo: Club Español. 2001. ISBN 9974-39-317-5.
  • Simionato, Claudia G., Vera, Carolina S., Siegismund, Frank (2005). "Surface Wind Variability on Seasonal and Interannual Scales Over Río de la Plata Area" Journal of Coastal Research. 21 (4): 770-783. Abstract online

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