Michael Wang

Santo Domingo meaning "Saint Dominic", officially Santo Domingo de Guzmán, is the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic and the largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean by population The city is coterminous with the boundaries of the Distrito Nacional ("D.N.", "National District"), itself bordered on three sides by Santo Domingo Province.

Founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496, on the east bank of the Ozama River and then moved by Nicolás de Ovando in 1502 to the west bank of the river, the city is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas, and was the first seat of the Spanish colonial rule in the New World. Santo Domingo is the site of the first university, cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress in the New World. The city's Colonial Zone was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Santo Domingo was called Ciudad Trujillo, from 1936 to 1961, after the Dominican Republic's dictator, Rafael Trujillo, named the capital after himself. Following his assassination, the city resumed its original designation.

Santo Domingo is the cultural, financial, political, commercial and industrial center of the Dominican Republic, with the country's most important industries being located within the city. Santo Domingo also serves as the chief seaport of the country. The city's harbor at the mouth of the Ozama River accommodates the largest vessels, and the port handles both heavy passenger and freight traffic.

History

Prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the native Taíno people populated the island which they called Quisqueya (mother of all lands) and Ayiti (land of high mountains), and which Columbus later named Hispaniola, including the territory of today's Republic of Haiti. At the time, the island's territory consisted of five chiefdoms: Marién, Maguá, Maguana, Jaragua, and Higüey. These were ruled respectively by caciques (chiefs) Guacanagarix, Guarionex, Caonabo, Bohechío, and Cayacoa.

Dating from 1496, when the Spanish settled on the island, and officially from 5 August 1498, Santo Domingo became the oldest European city in the Americas. Bartholomew Columbus founded the settlement and named it La Nueva Isabela, after an earlier settlement in the north named after the Queen of Spain Isabella I. In 1495 it was renamed "Santo Domingo", in honor of Saint Dominic. Santo Domingo came to be known as the "Gateway to the Caribbean" and the chief town in Hispaniola from then on. Expeditions which led to Ponce de León's colonization of Puerto Rico, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar's colonization of Cuba, Hernando Cortes' conquest of Mexico, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa's sighting of the Pacific Ocean were all launched from Santo Domingo.

In June 1502, Santo Domingo was destroyed by a major hurricane, and the new Governor Nicolás de Ovando had it rebuilt on a different site on the other side of the Ozama River. The original layout of the city and a large portion of its defensive wall can still be appreciated today throughout the Colonial Zone, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

In 1586, Francis Drake captured the city and held it for ransom. Drake's invasion signaled the decline of Spanish dominion over Hispaniola. An expedition sent by Oliver Cromwell in 1655 attacked the city of Santo Domingo but was defeated. The English troops withdrew and took the less guarded colony of Jamaica, instead.

From 1795 to 1822 the city changed hands several times along with the colony it headed. The city was ceded to France in 1795 after years of struggles, it was briefly captured by Haitian rebels in 1801, recovered by France in 1802, and was once again reclaimed by Spain in 1809. In 1821 Santo Domingo became the capital of an independent nation.

On 27 February 1844, Santo Domingo was again the capital of a free nation when it gained its independence from Haitian occupation, led by Dominican nationalist Juan Pablo Duarte. In 1861 Spain returned to the country, having struck a bargain with Dominican dictator Pedro Santana whereby the latter was granted several honorific titles and privileges, in exchange for annexing the young nation back to Spanish rule. The Dominican Restoration War began in 1863 however, and in 1865 the country was free again after Spain withdrew.

Over the next two-thirds of a century, Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic went through many revolutions, power changes, and occupation by the United States, 1916–24. The city was struck by hurricane San Zenón in 1930, which caused major damage. After its rebuilding, Santo Domingo was known officially as Ciudad Trujillo in honor of dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. Following his assassination in 1961, the city was renamed back to Santo Domingo.

Things to do

Architecture

Many of Santo Domingo's most notable landmarks are located within the Zona Colonial district of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. The Colonial Zone has an impressive collection of early 16th century buildings, including palatial houses and majestic churches that reflect the architectural style of the late Middle Ages.

The city's most important historical buildings include the Catedral Santa María La Menor, called La Catedral Primada de América, America's First Cathedral, which states its distinction; the Alcázar de Colón, America's first castle, once the residence of Viceroy of the Indies Don Diego Colón, a son of Christopher Columbus; the Monasterio de San Francisco, the ruins of the first monastery in the Americas; the Museo de las Casas Reales, in a monumental complex that includes the former Palace of the Governors and the building of the former Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo; the Fortaleza Ozama, the oldest fortress in the Americas; the Pantéon Nacional, a former Jesuit edifice now hosting the remains of various renowned Dominicans; and the Dominican Convent, the first convent in the Americas.

Las Atarazanas (former naval yard, now a museum) area was the first European commercial center in the Americas and is still a hub of activity today. The Alcázar de Colón, having once been the colonial palace of the Columbus family—beginning with his son Diego – is now a museum displaying period furniture and decorations.

Culture

The performing arts are very important in Santo Domingo. The city has its own symphonic orchestra, chamber orchestra, opera company, ballet company, folkloric company, and national theater, including a number of smaller groups. The Plaza of culture is the center of activity, but there are concerts, ballet, folklore, and other performances throughout the city. Casa de Teatro is the gathering place of Avant-Garde artists, actors, and musicians. It stages art and literature exhibitions and offers painting, drama, and dancing courses and monthly contests for poetry, short stories, and other forms of literature.

Santo Domingo is the location of numerous museums, many of which are located in the Zona Colonial district. Plaza de la Cultura also houses the city's most important cultural venues, including the Teatro Nacional; the Palacio Nacional, which houses the Presidency of the Dominican Republic; the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), a neoclassical building that is the permanent home of the country's National Symphony Orchestra; and the Boulevard 27 de Febrero, a pedestrian promenade located on the busy Avenida 27 de Febrero, which displays works of art from prominent Dominican artists and sculptors. Another attraction is the Centro Olímpico Juan Pablo Duarte, a sports complex in the center of Santo Domingo. This complex was used during the 2003 Pan American Games.

In the Plaza de la Cultura is the Museum of the Dominican Man, with artifacts from the pre-Columbian Taíno civilization, the National Museum of History and Geography, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art. Other museums include the Museo Bellapart, a prominent private collection of 19th- and 20th-Century Dominican painting and sculpture and the Museo Prehispanico, a major private collection of pre-Columbian Taíno art.