Santo Domingo (World Heritage)

Santo Domingo was founded in 1498 as the first city in the New World. With its chessboard-like layout, it became a model for colonial urban development in South and Central America. The oldest buildings include the Basílica Menor de Santa María Cathedral from 1541, the University from 1538 and the Hospital from 1503.

Santo Domingo: facts

Official title: Colonial-era city area of ​​Santo Domingo
Cultural monument: colonial old town, i.a. with the cathedral, also called Basilica Menor de la Virgen de La Anunciación, with the Casa Consistorial, the Borgellá Palace, the Ozama Fortress, the Casa de Bastidas, the Casa de Tostado and the Convento de la Orden de Predicadores de América, briefly called the Dominican monastery
Continent: America
Country: Dominican Republic
Location: Santo Domingo
Appointment: 1990
Meaning: Model for colonial urban planning in the New World

Santo Domingo: history

1492 Discovery of the island of Hispaniola, today Haiti and Dominican Republic, by Christopher Columbus
1496 Nueva Isabela first settlement on the Ozama River
1502 Destruction by hurricane
1503 Construction of the Torre de Homenaje
1504 Establishment of the diocese in Santo Domingo
1509 Capital of the viceroyalty of New Spain
1521-40 Central building of the Basilica Menor de la Virgen de La Anunciación
1546 Elevation of the basilica to a cathedral
January 11, 1586 Invasion of the privateers under Sir Francis Drake
February 27, 1844 at the Puerta de la Misericordia first shot of the war of independence against Haiti
1877 Discovery of the controversial tomb of Columbus in the cathedral
1936 Renaming to Ciudad Trujillo
1961 Renamed to Santo Domingo
1992 Celebrate the year of Columbus

The Gothic heart of the New World

As with so many discoveries and foundations in the New World, was it the chimerical and ultimately unfulfilled hope for gold that also stood at the beginning of the city of Santo Domingo ? A legend, unproven but by no means unbelievable, says that in 1499 the Spanish settlers opened their first settlement La Isabela, founded years earlier by Columbus himself, in the north of the island of Hispaniola (Haiti) gave up because one of her – a bully who escaped the law – got to know and love an Indian “princess” and thus learned of mysterious gold discoveries in the south of the island. It sounds far more sober from the mouths of historians: the momentous move and the re-establishment of Santo Domingo at the mouth of the Río Ozama were the result of the eternal quarrels between Columbus and his followers, who were fed up with the constant nodding by the admiral and simply him ran away. Be that as it may: not La Isabela, but Santo Domingo became the first capital of the New World. It was equipped with everything that was indispensable for a Spanish city of that time: a fortress with a salute tower that guarded the entrance to the Ozama and the harbor; with administration buildings along the harbor line, with the Casas Reales, with a now dilapidated hospital from that time and with an Atarazana, a craftsmen’s quarter with shipyards, rope makers, sailmakers and seaman’s pubs, which stretched further up the river and whose winding alleys are now shared with souvenir shops and small pubs. And last but not least, many churches and chapels were built that testified to the God-given claim of the Christian nation of Spain to the New World, above all the cathedral. Constantly expanded with new chapels, it was America’s most important church for centuries. To this day, it is the only basilica in the New World recognized by Rome – a gem from the Old World, transplanted into tropical and exotic nature. Unlike other American cities, Santo Domingo is Gothic, not only in the churches, but above all in the fortresses, walls and the preserved town houses. The clunky construction, the narrow windows, the sparse decorative elements, all of this suggests defensiveness, which a city in enemy territory, on the border of Christian civilization, also deserved.

It is no wonder that large parts of the old city, entire streets such as the Calle de las Damas, which runs along the river, have been preserved completely unadulterated. It is thanks to the fact that just a few decades after the founding of Santo Domingo Mexico and Peru were discovered, the real gold countries of America, which acted like a magnet on the first settlers of Santo Domingo. Given the dorado on the mainland, the Spanish crown was no longer interested in the rapidly depopulating city. Without gold and without people, defenseless, plundered by pirates, Santo Domingo became impoverished after just a few decades. Therefore, there was no money to build over and destroy the Gothic in baroque style, as was the case elsewhere. Visit for sunny Dominican Republic.

The old city, the Zona Colonial, remained largely untouched by the turbulent modernity of the 20th century. Anyone wandering through it at leisure will eventually come to a large square where a Renaissance palace opens its Italian-style arches. It is the Alcázar de Colón, the “castle of Columbus” – not the house of the discoverer, but that of his son Diego Colón (* probably 1478, † 23.2.1526), who was allowed to be the governor of the colony for a few years. To the father Christopher Columbus even the settlers of the New World never trusted it. Fearing that his strict regulations would spoil their joy in the New World for them, they rarely let the discoverer of the New World ashore and even imprisoned him in a tower at one point. For today’s residents of the colonial city, however, he is the founder of their city, for whom they built a huge mausoleum on the other bank of the Ozama: the Faro a Colón, the »lighthouse of Columbus«.

Santo Domingo (World Heritage)