La Zona Colonial: Santo Domingo’s colonial zone

The nerd in me enjoyed learning about the history of Santo Domingo. At the beginning and end of each two-week program taking high schoolers around the Dominican Republic with Rustic Pathways, we would be responsible for teaching the students the history of the city.

The typical tour would go something like this:

We would start off by having lunch at this traditional Dominican restaurant called El Conde right on the Plaza Colón (Columbus Plaza). We would have the “plato del día”- rice, beans, and usually chicken, sometimes beef or pork. I didn’t like the beef and pork. Often they would garnish the plate with a tasty salad / cole slaw in vinegar.

After lunch we would take pictures in front of the Columbus statue with the native Taíno people on the lower part of the statue.

It would be at this point that we would make sure the students were aware of dates like 1492 and were aware of the fact that the Dominican Republic was the first place where Europeans landed in the “New World.” We informed the students that Columbus was actually looking for a place called “Cipango” (Japan or the East), but landed on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic on his tiny ship the Santa María instead.

(Later on the tour at the Faro Colón- Columbus lighthouse- the students see just how small the Santa María was in terms of its tiny anchor.)

Directly behind the statue is the Catedral primada de las Americas, the first cathedral built in the New World. I don’t know why, but I always thought the story behind the cathedral was hilarious. I would tell the kids; sometimes they laughed, sometimes they didn’t. Apparently Chris Columbus’s son Diego placed the cornerstone of the cathedral to begin construction in 1510, but the construction wasn’t completed until 1540, because allegedly the architect took the plans / blueprints with him on a jaunt to Mexico, in effect “slightly delaying” the whole production.

We made sure the students know that Columbus didn’t land in Santo Domingo on the southern coast; he landed up north closer to Puerto Plata, and gradually the colony ended up being concentrated in the south on the Ozama River (Río Ozama). At the mouth of the river we stumble across Fort Ozama (Fortaleza Ozama) which was captured by Sir Francis Drake on one occasion in its scintillating history. Here, my favorite amiga Dominicana Naomi poses for a picture in front of the río.

Then, Jasmine and Piña pose at the top.

I love this picture with our group checking out the height of the fort from the bottom.

Later in the tour, we’d walk down the Calle las Damas to Plaza España to see Diego Colón’s palace:

Then we would check out the statue of infamous Fray Nicholas de Ovando who facilitated the extermination of the Taíno people, a process that was completed in less than a century due to enslavement, European diseases, and the encomienda system.

The tour usually ends on a higher note when we walk up the hill from Plaza España and stop off to take pictures at the beautiful San Francisco ruins. I think photographer Cayce Clifford looks so pretty in this picture:

The ruins used to be a nunnery and then an asylum (one can still see chains on the walls, ew), and the gate is tended by this sweet old man Bienvenidos. Seriously, his name is Bienvenidos. It felt weird always saying “Hola, Bienvenidos.” It felt redundant; when in Rome.

The ruins are really gorgeous:

Then we walk a few more blocks up into Chinatown where we go to the Mercado Modelo for the kids to buy souvenirs. Well, not just the kids. I bought 21 necklaces over the course of 8 weeks this summer in the DR, which is kind of gross. But, if you know me well, you know that I haggled for hours with the vendors at their stands in the market and outside on the beaches in the sweltering Dominican sun to get the price I wanted.

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  1. Faro Colón: an urban monolith « 256 Days in a Pickup Truck - September 13, 2012

    […] I mentioned the lighthouse dedicated to Columbus (Faro Colón) in Santo Domingo earlier, but it really is worth showing you some photos of the unusual structure. […]

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