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Santo Domingo

January 30, 2012

Jeanie:  We spent less than 24 hours in Santo Domingo seeing the historical sites and doing a little shopping.Santo Domingo skyline  I took many, many pictures and tried to take notes of the histories and stories connected with them but in the end, I think “you had to be there” to get much out of it.  One thing that always strikes me is how proud the Dominican people are that Columbus first landed in the DR, first built a city here.  While they talk about the genocide of the native peoples (though they never use that strong a word) and about a long history of slavery, they always come back to this pride. 

The shield of Santo Domingo with the crown representing the Spanish royalty, lions for strength, and the key representing Santo Domingo as the door to the Americas

For example, our guide explained that all the conquistadores who invaded the Americas from Spain (again, not using the word “invaded”) had to come first to Santo Domingo for “training” and “blessing”.

Diego Colon palace--restored at about half its original size. This balcony looked over the city market place.

We arrived in the late afternoon, dropped our stuff at a hostel in the “Zona Colonial”, and headed to the square in front of Diego Columbus’ palace where we met our guide.  Diego Colon (the Spanish version of “Columbus”) was Christopher’s son and governor of Santo Domingo for some period of time.  Diego had the palace built in 1510-1516.  Three generations of Colon lived there before it passed into other families and finally fell into ruin.  Trujillo restored about half of the palace. 

An original column made of coral; building constructed of blocks of coral

We didn’t go inside—just got the story outside.  The palace was placed so that Diego could look out over the harbor from one balcony and over the main city marketplace from another. 

Balcony which overlooked the harbor

We saw many buildings with brick "trim" but the vast majority of colonial construction was coral blocks. This small chapel was the only all brick facade we saw.

Basically all the buildings in the colonial zone were built with coral blocks.  Many were constructed in the 1500’s; Trujillo restored some of them.  Others, like the Cathedral, have been in continuous use and continuous repair.

Inside the cathedral--coral block construction

One of the places our guide took us was a “factory” where jewelry is made from larimar, amber, and black coral.  Larimar is a pale blue stone, similar to turquoise.  It is the national stone of the DR because nowhere else in the world has this stone.  Dominicans call it the “love stone”.  Amber, of course, is mined in many places around the globe but the DR has a good deal of it.  It is believed to bring good luck.  The jewelers in this shop/factory told us that the black coral is found along the beaches, not harvested from living coral reefs.  We got the same story the next day at another shop/factory—I hope that is true.  Anyway, I have wanted a nice larimar and/or amber ring and earrings—easy to buy cheap stuff but I wanted something pretty nice so I bought myself a ring and earrings.  I bargained the woman down a bit and then ended up about $10 short of the cash price we had agreed to so I got the set for about $85.

Larimar and amber rink

After a delicious dinner in the Colonial Zone, we headed back to our lodgings.  The students stayed in a hostel—8 to a room.  I stayed in a “hotel” down the street.  It was kind of a cross between a hostel and a hotel.  There was no lobby—we (Mary Bean, the Academic Director of the semester abroad program, and I) had to check in before 6 p.m. in a jewelry story where we got keys to a door between two shops that led to second and third floor rooms.  My room overlooked the street—“no problem” I figured, “I brought my earplugs”.  Well, when we arrived to go to bed about 8:30, the tourist shop below my room had a “band” playing—a drum, an accordion, and (I don’t know what this is called) a rasping can.  They played and sang loudly—AND they were not good—AND the earplugs didn’t do much to block out the sound.  They played until about 10:30—I was grateful it wasn’t midnight!

On Saturday we toured one of the national museums and the cathedral, and went shopping.  We also went to the lighthouse constructed in honor of Columbus—in my opinion probably the ugliest building I’ve ever seen with a pretty sordid history of urban reconstruction abuses and money spent inappropriately.

The Columbus "Lighthouse"--shape of a giant cross with lights that project upwards to make a giant cross in the sky. No windows--just a huge concrete mass.

  We got back to Santiago in time for showers before supper.

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