Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

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Santo Domingo, the largest city, chief seaport and capital of the Dominican Republic, lies in the south of the country where the Ozama flows into the Caribbean. It is the industrial, commercial, administrative and financial centre of the country. The city is the oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere. The oldest part, known as the Colonial City, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.


Santo Domingo was founded in 1496 by Christopher Columbus’ brother, Bartholomew, following Columbus’ discovery of the island of Hispaniola in 1492. The western third of the island is now the Republic of Haiti and the remainder, the Dominican Republic. The original city was located on the left (east) bank of the Ozama River and was called Nueva Isabella in honour of Queen Isabella of Spain. Destroyed by a hurricane in 1502 it was rebuilt on its current location on the right bank. The city was sacked by Sir Francis Drake in 1586 but in 1655 another attack by the British was repelled. From 1795 to 1809 Santo Domingo was controlled by the French. With British help the French were forced to return the colony to Spain from which the Dominicans declared their independence in 1821. However in 1822 the Haitians invaded and ruled until 1844 when the Dominican Republic was founded with Santo Domingo as its capital. Following annexation to Spain the city lost this status until 1865 when independence was restored. Between 1916–26 the country was under American military occupation. In 1936 the ruling dictator Rafael Trujillo changed the city’s name Ciudad Trujillo, but it reverted back to Santo Domingo on Trujillo’s assassination in 1961.

Modern City

In 1930 the harbour was greatly expanded. Leading industries, such as petrochemicals, plastics, metallurgy, refrigerators, cement, textiles and food processing are located in Santo Domingo. It is also a distribution outlet for sugar cane, beef and products of the region. A major network of roads connects the capital with the rest of the republic, however the only railway lines are to nearby sugar refineries. Las Americas International Airport lies 20 min to the east of the city with non-stop flights to cities in Europe and America. To reach other destinations internally, Air Santo Domingo operates daily domestic flights from Herrera to seven locations. Tourism is a major source of income. The historic ‘Colonial City’ is the most popular attraction. The waterfront thoroughfare, El Malecon, bustles with restaurants, cafés, high-rise hotels, office blocks and shops. There is a Carnival at the time of Independence Day on 27 Feb. Educational institutions include the oldest university in the Western Hemisphere, the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo founded in 1538.

Places of Interest

The first street ever built in the Americas is Calle de Las Damas. The restored sixteenth century palace of the Spanish Court, the Museum of the Royal Houses, stands close to the Alcázar de Colón (Castle of Columbus) built by Columbus’ son Diego. The Cathedral Basilica Santa Maria La Menor dates from 1514 and was declared the first cathedral in the New World by Pope Paul III. To mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing the Faro a Colón (Columbus Lighthouse) was erected to house his remains. The Plaza de la Cultura encompasses four museums including the Museum of Dominican Man.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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