Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo, meaning "Saint Dominic", known officially as Santo Domingo de Guzmán, is the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic and the largest city in the Caribbean by population. In 2010, its population was counted as 965,040, rising to 2,907,100 when its surrounding metropolitan area was included. The city lies within the boundaries of the Distrito Nacional ("D.N.", "National District"), itself bordered on three sides by Santo Domingo Province.

Founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496, on the east bank of the Ozama River and then moved by Nicolás de Ovando in 1502 to the west bank of the river, the city is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas, and was the first seat of the Spanish colonial rule in the New World. Santo Domingo is the site of the first university, cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress in the New World. The city's Colonial Zone was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Santo Domingo was called Ciudad Trujillo, from 1936 to 1961, after the Dominican Republic's dictator, Rafael Trujillo, named the capital after himself. Following his assassination, the city resumed its original designation.

Santo Domingo is the cultural, financial, political, commercial and industrial center of the Dominican Republic, with the country’s most important industries being located within the city. Santo Domingo also serves as the chief seaport of the country. The city's harbor at the mouth of the Ozama River accommodates the largest vessels, and the port handles both heavy passenger and freight traffic. Temperatures are high year round, with a cool breeze around winter time.

History

Prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the native Taíno people populated the island which they called Quisqueya (mother of all lands) and Ayiti (land of high mountains), and which Columbus later named Hispaniola, including the territory of today's Republic of Haiti. At the time, the island's territory consisted of five chiefdoms: Marién, Maguá, Maguana, Jaragua, and Higüey. These were ruled respectively by caciques (chiefs) Guacanagarix, Guarionex, Caonabo, Bohechío, and Cayacoa.

Dating from 1496, when the Spanish settled on the island, and officially from 5 August 1498, Santo Domingo became the oldest European city in the Americas. Bartholomew Columbus founded the settlement and named it La Nueva Isabela, after an earlier settlement in the north named after the Queen of Spain Isabella I. In 1495 it was renamed "Santo Domingo", in honor of Saint Dominic. Santo Domingo came to be known as the "Gateway to the Caribbean" and the chief town in Hispaniola from then on. Expeditions which led to Ponce de León's colonization of Puerto Rico, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar's colonization of Cuba, Hernando Cortes' conquest of Mexico, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa's sighting of the Pacific Ocean were all launched from Santo Domingo.

In June 1502, Santo Domingo was destroyed by a major hurricane, and the new Governor Nicolás de Ovando had it rebuilt on a different site on the other side of the Ozama River. 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 1586, Francis Drake captured the city and held it for ransom. Drake's invasion signaled the decline of Spanish dominion over Hispaniola, which was accentuated in the early 17th century by policies that resulted in the depopulation of most of the island outside of the capital. An expedition sent by Oliver Cromwell in 1655 attacked the city of Santo Domingo, but was defeated. The English troops withdrew and took the less guarded colony of Jamaica, instead. In 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick included the acknowledgement by Spain of France's dominion over the Western third of the island, now Haiti.

From 1795 to 1822 the city changed hands several times along with the colony it headed. The city was ceded to France in 1795 after years of struggles, it was briefly captured by Haitian rebels in 1801, recovered by France in 1802, and was once again reclaimed by Spain in 1809. In 1821 Santo Domingo became the capital of an independent nation after the Criollo bourgeois within the country, led by José Núñez de Cáceres, overthrew the Spanish crown. The nation was unified with Haiti just two months later. The city and the colony lost much of their Spanish-born peninsular population as a result of these events which caused a great deal of instability and unrest.

On February 27, 1844 Santo Domingo was again the capital of a free nation, when it gained its independence from Haitian occupation, led by Dominican nationalist Juan Pablo Duarte. The city was a prize fought over by various political factions over the succeeding decades of instability. In addition, the country had to fight multiple battles with Haiti; the Battle of March 19, Battle of March 30, Battle of Las Carreras, and Battle of Beler, are a few of the most prominent encounters, mentioned in the national anthem and with city streets named after them. In 1861 Spain returned to the country, having struck a bargain with Dominican dictator Pedro Santana whereby the latter was granted several honorific titles and privileges, in exchange for annexing the young nation back to Spanish rule. The Dominican Restoration War began in 1863 however, and in 1865 the country was free again after Spain withdrew.

Over the next two-thirds of a century Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic went through many revolutions, power changes, and occupation by the United States, 1916–24. The city was struck by hurricane San Zenón in 1930, which caused major damage. After its rebuilding, Santo Domingo was known officially as Ciudad Trujillo in honor of dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, who governed from 1930. Following his assassination in 1961 the city was renamed back to Santo Domingo. It was the scene of street fighting during the 1965 United States occupation of the Dominican Republic.

The year 1992 marked the 500th anniversary, El Quinto Centenario, of Christopher Columbus' Discovery of America. The Columbus Lighthouse – Faro a Colón – was erected in Santo Domingo in honor of this occasion, with an approximate cost of 400 million Dominican pesos.

Geography

The Ozama river flows 148 kilometres (92 miles) before emptying into the Caribbean Sea. Santo Domingo's position on its banks was of great importance to the city's economic development and the growth of trade during colonial times. The Ozama River is where the country's busiest port is located.

Architecture

Many of Santo Domingo's most notable landmarks are located within the Zona Colonial district of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. The Colonial Zone, bordered by the Río Ozama, also has an impressive collection of early 16th century buildings, including palatial houses and majestic churches that reflect the architectural style of the late Middle Ages.

The city's most important historical buildings include the Catedral Santa María La Menor, called La Catedral Primada de América, America's First Cathedral, which states its distinction; the Alcázar de Colón, America's first castle, once the residence of Viceroy of the Indies Don Diego Colón, a son of Christopher Columbus; the Monasterio de San Francisco, the ruins of the first monastery in the Americas; the Museo de las Casas Reales, in a monumental complex that includes the former Palace of the Governors and the building of the former Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo; the Fortaleza Ozama, the oldest fortress in the Americas; the Pantéon Nacional, a former Jesuit edifice now hosting the remains of various renowned Dominicans; and the Dominican Convent, the first convent in the Americas.

On the north end of Calle Las Damas, the restored and expanded Plaza de España is bordered by Las Atarazanas (former naval yard, now a museum) and a number of small shops and restaurants. This area was the first European commercial center in the Americas, and is still a hub of activity today. The Alcázar de Colón, having once been the colonial palace of the Columbus family—beginning with his son Diego — is now a museum displaying period furniture and decorations. The building was originally built in 1510, and restored to its current appearance in 1952.

A 700 million US dollar investment was made in the Port of the Ozama river adjacent to the Ciudad Colonial aiming to turn Santo Domingo into a port of call for luxury cruise ships and including a privately owned marina. The project is being completed by Sans Soucí Ports S.A.

Economy

The city is the center of economic activity in the Dominican Republic. It is where most of the country's wealth is concentrated and also where everything related to politics occurs. Many national and international firms have their headquarters or regional offices in Santo Domingo. The city attracts many international firms and franchises such as Ikea, Goldcorp and Barrick due to its geographic location and economic stability.

The infrastructure is suitable for most business operations. A key element that has helped the city grow and compete globally is the telecommunications infrastructure. The Dominican Republic has a modern telecommunications system due to its privatization and integration with the U.S. systems. This has attracted numerous call centers in recent years. Santo Domingo not only has an excellent telecommunications infrastructure but also a sizeable bilingual population that speaks English.

The city's economic growth has been very noticeable in recent years. The construction boom is reflected in luxury residential towers, shopping malls, elevated highways, the metro expansion and an increase in commercial activity.

Santo Domingo has a thriving middle class but it also has pockets of poverty located on the outskirts of the city. Areas of high income families are found in the central Polygon of the city, which is bordered by the Avenida John F. Kennedy northward February 27 Avenue south, Avenida Winston Churchill to the west and Avenida Máximo Gómez to the east, and is characterized by its mostly residential area and its very active nightlife .

Santo Domingo has areas of high development, among them Serralles, Naco, Arroyo Hondo, Piantini, Urb Fernandez, " Ens. Juliet, Paradise, The Prairies, Los Prados, Bella Vista, Sarasota and other sectors, which consist mostly of costly buildings and luxury houses, contrasting with the outskirts of the city as Gualey and Capotille which are significantly less economically developed .

Bella Vista and La Esperilla are currently the fastest growing sectors with large mega-projects. Gazcue belongs to the more traditional southeastern area of the city and is known for its buildings dating from the 1930s to the 1960s.

The city's shopping centers are located primarily on Avenida Winston Churchill, where there are places such as Acropolis Center, Blue Mall, and large supermarkets. It is also the home of the largest commercial banks, such as Banco Popular Dominicano, Scotiabank, Citibank, Banco BHD, Banco del Progreso, Banreservas, among others. February 27 Avenue is very commercially successful and is considered the most important avenue of the city. The oldest malls in the country are Plaza Central and Plaza Naco, the latter served as the first shopping center in the city. Bella Vista Mall is one of the newest malls built in the city, which attracts many high-income families. The city has an established securities market in the late 90s.

Culture

The performing arts are very important in Santo Domingo. The city has its own symphonic orchestra, chamber orchestra, opera company, ballet company, folkloric company, and national theater, including a number of smaller groups. The Plaza of culture is the center of activity, but there are concerts, ballet, folklore, and other performances throughout the city. Casa de Teatro is the gathering place of avant garde artists, actors, and musicians. It stages art and literature exhibitions and offers painting, drama, and dancing courses and monthly contests for poetry, short stories, and other forms of literature.

Santo Domingo is the location of numerous museums, many of which are located in the Zona Colonial district. In the Zona Colonial is the Museum of Alcázar, in Diego Colon's restored palace, the Museum of the Casas Reales, with artefacts of the colonial period and a collection of ancient weapons donated by Trujillo, the Naval Museum of the Atarazanas, in the former naval yards, Museo de la Catedral, Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana, documenting the struggle for freedom during the regimes of Trujillo and Balaguer, Museo Duarte, dedicated to the hero of Dominican independence, and the World of Ambar Museum.

Plaza de la Cultura also houses the city's most important cultural venues, including the Teatro Nacional (National Theater) and various museums; the Palacio Nacional, which houses the Presidency of the Dominican Republic; the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), a neoclassical building that is the permanent home of the country's National Symphony Orchestra; and the Boulevard 27 de Febrero, a pedestrian promenade located on the busy Avenida 27 de Febrero, which displays works of art from prominent Dominican artists and sculptors. Another attraction is the Centro Olímpico Juan Pablo Duarte, a sports complex in the center of Santo Domingo. This complex was used during the 2003 Pan American Games.

In the Plaza de la Cultura are the Museum of the Dominican Man, with artifacts from the pre-Columbian Taíno civilization, the National Museum of History and Geography, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art. Other museums include the Museo Bellapart, a prominent private collection of 19th- and 20th-Century Dominican painting and sculpture and the Museo Prehispanico, a major private collection of pre-Columbian Taíno art.

Parks and recreational areas

The city has various parks, many of which are relatively large. Santo Domingo (D.N) is surrounded by the Santo Domingo Greenbelt. Mirador Norte Park lies in the north of the city, close to Villa Mella and Mirador Sur Park is located in the southwest section of the city. Mirador del Este is located on the East bank of the Ozama river and it is the seat of the Columbus Lighthouse. Independencia Park and Colón Park are located in Zona Colonial.

Other notable parks include:

    Parque Enriquillo
    Parque Independencia
    Parque Metropolitano Las Praderas
    El Malecón
    Jardín Botánico Nacional
    Parque Zoológico Nacional
    Barrio Chino de Santo Domingo
    Parque Núñez de Cáceres

Education

There are eighteen universities in Santo Domingo, the highest number of any city in the Dominican Republic. Established in 1538, the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) is the oldest university in the Americas and is also the only public university in the city. Santo Domingo holds the nation's highest percentage of residents with a higher education degree.

Roads and highways

Santo Domingo is the terminus for four of the five national highways. The city is connected to the southwest of the country by the national highway DR-2 (Avenida George Washington and Autopista 30 de Mayo), and with the cities of the country's northwest by DR-1 (Expreso Kennedy, Corredor Duarte), which serves as a direct link to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros. DR-3 (Expreso 27 de Febrero/Autopista de Las Américas) connects Santo Domingo directly to the east of the country, including the cities of San Pedro de Macorís, La Romana, and major tourist sites such as Punta Cana and Bávaro, and to the Samaná Province (in the northeast) via the Samana Highway.

Public transportation

Santo Domingo has an underground and elevated rapid transit metro system. It is the most extensive metro in the Caribbean and Central American region by total length and number of stations. The Santo Domingo Metro is part of a major "National Master Plan" to improve transportation in the city as well as the rest of the nation. The first line was planned to relieve traffic congestion in the Máximo Gómez and Hermanas Mirabal Avenue. The second line, which opened in April 2013, is meant to relieve the congestion along the Duarte-Kennedy-Centenario Corridor in the city from west to east. As of August 2013, the metro consists of these two lines. Four more lines are planned to be constructed in the near future, for a total of six. Before the opening of the second line, 30,856,515 passengers rode the Santo Domingo Metro in 2012.

Airports

Santo Domingo is served by two international airports, the main one being Las Américas International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional de las Americas). The airport has two terminals; the newer one, just completed in 2006, added five more gates on the northern end of the facility. As of 2010, the airport handled over 3.4 million passengers per year. Las Américas is located in Punta Caucedo, 15 km (9 mi) east of the National District on DR-3. It is serviced by such airlines as majors American Airlines, Jetblue Airways, Delta Air Lines, Iberia, Air France and Cubana de Aviación. as well as smaller ones like Sunrise Airways. The Aeropuerto Internacional La Isabela is a secondary, newly constructed airport located in the northern section of the city, within kilometres of the city center. It is not currently used as a major international airport, servicing mostly domestic and charter flights.

Seaport

The Port of Santo Domingo is located on the Ozama River. Its location at the center of the Caribbean is well suited for flexible itinerary planning and has excellent support, road and airport infrastructure within the Santo Domingo region, which facilitate access and transfers. The port is suitable for both turnaround and transit calls.

The port's renovation is part of a major redevelopment project, aimed at integrating the port area and the Zona Colonial and foster a cruise, yacht, and high-end tourism destination. Supported by legislation approved in 2005, the project, developed by the Sans Souci Group, also includes the development of a new sports marina and a 122-acre (0.49 km2) mixed-leisure real estate development adjacent to the port.

Media

There are 15 television stations (both UHF and VHF) in Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo has the greatest number of television signals in the country, followed by Santiago. Additional cable television channels are provided by companies like Aster, Cable TV Dominicana, SKY Dominicana, and Telecable. In Santo Domingo there are 100 different stations in AM frequency and 44 in FM frequency.

WHEN TO GO

Between December and May, temperatures in Puerto Plata tend to hover between 28C and 31C. June to November is hurricane season, so the Dominican Republic is often hit by tropical storms – but the hotels are dab hands at dealing with them. June has the highest rainfall, clocking up 12 wet days.

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