Friday, October 24, 2014

#649 Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

The only 15th century European city in the Americas, Santo Domingo, is amazing in that its layout and much of its architecture remain almost exactly as they were created. Above you can see the most modern pedestrianized street (El Conde) which holds most of the taller and newer buildings, while on the right is the Iglesia de de Altagracia, which sits next to monastery ruins left to the ages.

Many modern homes are one story, some with art deco remodeling, most with criss-crossing power lines, and all with ornate gates or doors.

Torre de Homenaje inside the Fortaleza Ozama
From the Fortaleza Ozama (a.k.a Fortaleza de Santo Domingo) with its tall Torre de Homenaje in the middle of the southeast corner of the city, to the charming cobbled street of Las Damas peeking into the fort, where rich colonial women would promenade on nice evenings and with Christopher Columbus' house at one end (the Alcazar de Colon), to the quaint colonial houses with pretty courtyards and balconies, slowly being restored into restaurants and boutique hotels, I think my favorite thing was still the fact that it is a current, active city and not a museum. Men and women sit on the benches in the park and gossip or play dominoes. Children still play on the streets, and it is still very much owned by the people.
Founded in 1498 by Bartholomew Columbus (although this was actually on the east bank of the Ozama River and Governor Nicolas de Ovando moved it to its current location on the west bank in 1502), it was the first to be laid out on a grid plan, which was just one of many firsts. It also saw the first cathedral (St Mary of the Incarnation), the first monastery (St Francois), the first university (St Tomas Aquinas), the first hospital (Nicholas de Bari), the first fortified city, and of course, the first headquarters of Spanish power, from where many of the New World conquistadors set out. 
Parque Colon with the Cathedral behind. This statue of Columbus is controversial and politically incorrect, partially due to the Taino woman grasping at his feet.
While I was there, huge amounts of reconstruction were going on. Roads were closed all over the Zona Colonial.
The former Jesuit monastery and church, Convento de San Ignacio de Loyola, which since 1958 has been the National Pantheon, holding the tombs of the country's presidents, heroes and a tomb intended for Trujillo. 
Museo de Las Casas Reales, a reconstructed early 16th Century building which was in colonial days the Palace of the Governors and Captains-General, the Audiencia Real (Supreme Court made up of three judges designed to check the power of the governor) and Chancery of the Indies. 
Looking up and down Calle Hostos
The beautiful ruins of the Fuerte de San Francisco.
Catedral Basilica Menor de Santa Maria
The city walls have been lowered so a modern road can pass through, but I love that they've ensured no one will forget by leaving the remnants of history as cobblestones. In a similar way, the old wall has been surrounded by modern apartment blocks, and cunning staircases traverse it. 
As mentioned by UNESCO: "The Colonial City of Santo Domingo, surrounded by its walls, has preserved, almost unaltered, the extension of its territory, its grid layout and most of its architectural monumental structures. Apart from rare but dramatic exceptions, it has retained its traditional scale, the width of the streets, the plots and heights of the buildings. Throughout its historical development, its has incorporated architecture of the various eras with their forms, styles, materials and construction methods that have enriched the knowledge and interpretation of its economic, social and cultural development as a living historical center."

Footprint Caribbean Islands, 15th Edition, 2004

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