We describe the design and construction of the ESO UV-visual echelle spectrograph and the performance that was measured during its commissioning 1999. UVES is a dual-beam, grating crossdispersed echelle spectrograph. The resolution for a 1 arcsecond slit is 40,000. With narrower slits, resolutions of up to 80,000 and 115,000 are achieved with adequate sampling. UVES provides order separations of minimum 10 arcseconds at any wavelength between 320 and 1050 nm. The wavelength coverage is 100 nm in the blue arm and 200 or 400 nm in the red arm, with possibility to use a dichroic. Some concepts pioneered in UVES are now increasingly being used in other echelle spectrograph for large telescopes: a white pupil design, very steep replicated mosaic echelles, and large refractive cameras with external focus. Regular observations are starting in April 2000 at the Nasmyth focus of Kueyen, Unit Telescope 2 of the VLT array.