History of Santo Domingo

Don Bartolomé Columbus, brother of Admiral Christopher Columbus, founded the city of Santo Domingo on the west bank of the Río Ozama on a date that generates controversy even today. Some historians date its establishment to the year 1496, others 1497 and still others, 1498. Its origin is also an object of contentionl, as for some the motive was the discovery of gold mines and for others it was the romance of a soldier from Aragon with a native queen named Catalina. 

An irrefutable fact is that the first expeditions that Columbus organized to explore the island in search of gold and establish new left from La Isabela, the first cityin the New World.  

A publication of the Centro para la Historia de las Obras Públicas y Urbanas (CEHOPU), cited by historian José Chez Checo in the edition “Dawn and Dusk of the Villa of Santo Domingo” states: “Late in 1493, La Isabela, the first municipality of the New World, was founded. This settlement had a short life as the discovery of gold mines in the south of the territory, next to the Río Haina caused colonization to move toward the southern region. Here, in August 1497, the first of the city’s two settlements was raised. Though the date of establishment of Santo Domingo is not proved through documentary evidence, we do know that it was Bartolomé Columbus who built it, naming it for the day on which he arrived or in memory of the Columbus brothers’ father, also named Domingo.” 

Destroyed by the hurricane that razed the city in June of 1502, the city was transferred to the western bank of the river by Friar Nicolás de Ovando, the Governor of Hispaniola. 

Ovando created the urban layout of the city, which included a group of streets and military, civil and religious buildings. The historians tell that at the time, the then Commander of Lares designed the first street of America, Las Damas, and the first fort, Torre del Homenaje. 

The urban enterprise was monumental. Construction masters of great prestige arrived, in addition to experienced masons. Ovando had arrived to the island with express instructions from the Catholic kings that included the restoration of the privileges that the deposed governor Bobadilla had taken from Columbus and his brothers, who were sent back to Spain in shackles. The new governor arrived to the island with 2,500 Spaniards, some nobles and gentlemen, a group of higher human quality than the emigrants of the earlier journeys to the Indies, claims Chez Checo. 

During the first years of Ovando, Santo Domingo reached such splendor that it was compared with the most beautiful Spanish cities. Rodrigo de Liendo was one of the masters that built, among other works, the Monasterio de San Francisco and the Iglesia de la Mercedes. 

The campaign included the construction of the government´s headquarters, the churches of Santa Bárbara, San Santón, San Miguel and San Carlos, and blocks of houses in which the careful masons worked without rest. 

On December 7, 1508, the city of Santo Domingo received a coat of arms by royal decree. A year later, in 1509, the Spanish Crown designated a son of Admiral Columbus, Diego Columbus, governor of the island. The man had inherited the titles of viceroy and governor of discovered lands. With the son of the discoverer arrived his wife, Doña María de Toledo, who belonged to one of the most influential families of Spain at the time. Soon, the steps of Doña María with her court of ladies on Las Damas street would make history. Their residence, the Alcázar de Colón, still retains part of its original furniture.

Did you know? In 1990, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the Colonial City of Santo Domingo a “World Heritage Site”. 


For more information:
Ministry of Tourism of the Dominican Republic: http://www.godominicanrepublic.com/es/destinos/santodomingo-es/
Clúster Turístico de Santo Domingo: http://gosantodomingo.travel/gosd/ciudad-detalle/28/historia/ 

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