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Santo Domingo de Guzmán, Dominican Republic

July 29th, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

Santo Domingo de Guzmán, population 2,061,200 (2003), estimated 2,253,437 in 2006, is the capital of the Dominican Republic. The city is located at 18°30′N 69°59′W, on the Caribbean Sea, at the mouth of the Ozama River. It is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas, and was the first seat of Spanish colonial rule in the new world.

Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Taíno Indians populated the island of Hispaniola, including the part now occupied by Haiti. At that time, a chieftain or cacique ruled the island through a complex, centralized government, a fact completely lost on the Europeans, who dismissed the natives as "savages."

Bartholomew Columbus, brother of Christopher Columbus, founded Santo Domingo, which is today the oldest European city in the New World. In reality the city dates back to 1496, the period when the first Europeans settled there, although officially it was founded on August 5, 1498. 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 1994. The Colonial Zone, bordered by the Río Ozama, has also an impressive collection of 16th century buildings, including palatial houses and majestic churches that reflect the architectural style of the late medieval period.

The city's most important colonial buildings include the Catedral Primada de América, which is the first Catholic Cathedral in America; the Alcázar de Colón, once the residence of Don Diego Colón, the son of Christopher Columbus who became viceroy of the colony; the Monasterio de San Francisco, the ruins of the first monastery in America; the Museo de las Casas Reales, the former Palace of the Governor General and the Palace of Royal Audiences; the Parque Colón, a historic square; the Fortaleza Ozama, the oldest fortress in America; the Panteón Nacional, a former Jesuit now hosting the remains of various renown Dominicans; and the Iglesia del Convento Dominico, the first convent in America.

Throughout its first century, Santo Domingo was the launching pad for much of the exploration and conquest of the New World. The expeditions that led to Ponce de Leon's discovery of Puerto Rico, Hernando Cortes' conquest of Mexico and Balboa's sighting of the Pacific Ocean all started from Santo Domingo.

In 1568, the famous English pirate Francis Drake invaded and pillaged the Hispaniola. This so weakened Spanish dominion over the island that for more than 50 years all but the capital was abandoned and left to the mercy of the pirates. In 1655, the French invaded the west end of the island, and after several treaties and forced annexations, the portion of the island controlled by Santo Domingo was reduced to less than half. Later on, in 1822, the Haitians, commanded by Toussaint Louverture, took over the entire island, and the island's Spanish-speaking residents had to fight for their lost independence and survival. Finally, on February 27, 1844, the Spanish part of the island regained its independence after 22 years of Haitian rule thanks to a group of patriots headed by Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Ramón Matías Mella, being the Puerta del Conde the main scenario of this relevant event. It was then when the Spanish part of the island became the country known today as the Dominican Republic.

After the independence was achieved, various political factions struggled for control of Santo Domingo. In addition to this instability, the country had to fight continuous Haitian incursions, which were in their totality defeated. In 1861, the Spanish returned to Santo Domingo and annexed the country for four years, this period is known as the Anexión a España. After that, Santo Domingo went through many power changes, including the 20th century Trujillo dictatorship (established after the 1916-1924 occupation by U.S. Marines), which lasted from 1930 to 1961 and ended with the execution of the dictator; as well as the multiple presidencies of Joaquin Balaguer, who governed the country for 22 years. These civil wars and political struggles marked the first 70 years of the country's independence.

The year 1992 marked the 500th anniversary, El Quinto Centenario, of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America. The Columbus Lighthouse (Faro de Colón), with an approximate cost of 400 million Dominican pesos, was erected, amidst great controversy, in honor of this occasion.

There are some museums dedicated to the history of the Dominican Republic, the Museo de las Casas Reales is dedicated to the colonial period; while the soon-to-be renovated Museo de Historia y Geografía is dedicated to the Dominican history prior the Discovery up to contemporary times. The history of the Independence is summarized in the Museo y Casa de Duarte and the Altar de la Patria.

The cobblestone streets and late medieval architecture of the Western Hemisphere's first European city let visitors glimpse the colonial past, as vibrant nightlife, warm beaches and posh resorts take historic Santo Domingo into its future.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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