The Dominican Republic’s history is not only long, it’s diverse, as are its people. In fact, dolls in the DR are made without faces because no one face can represent all that the DR represents — Native, Spanish, multiple countries/tribes from Africa, French, Haitian, and more. And the written (European-influenced) history dates back more than 500 years, as do many of the buildings in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, which is where we spent three days exploring, studying, and contemplating.
(Let me just put in a quick side note here — do not plan to drive in the area! Not only are the streets narrow and filled with scooters and pedestrians, most are one way [una via], and sometimes they go in the same direction for two or three blocks in a row. We got into a box and absolutely could not get to our hotel without the friendly bell boy who accompanied Bob more than half a mile away to get him to the vast underground parking garage. How the garage got under the colonial city remains a mystery…)
Now back to our main story: The town, the oldest continuous European settlement in the Americas, was first established by the son of Christopher Columbus back in 1496. Construction on the beautiful cathedral, the oldest in the Americas, began in 1523. The cathedral audio tour ($8US) is well worth it. The explanations of the beautiful art and architecture provide a depth of understanding that is well worth knowing.
If you visit the Colonial Zone, be prepared to be accosted by the official government-sanctioned guides who station themselves around the streets, looking to pounce on folks who look like tourists (if you wear shorts, you look like a tourist!). Samuel Solomon found us, and after Bob bargained with him, we had a personal, 1.5 hour tour of the old city. It was well worth the price. Samuel was candid in his dislike of Columbus and his views of the current political situation in the DR. I think he appreciated that we already knew some of the history (see below) and felt he could share with us some “inside information.” He left us at a wonderful Dominican restaurant (I really probably could eat beans and rice for most meals for the rest of my life) and left us contemplating hundreds of years of power struggles in a place that’s not that rich or powerful.
The zone, as you might expect, is full of museums. One that fascinated us was the Larimar Museum (which doesn’t have its own website but does have good Google reviews). Larimar is a gorgeous blue mineral, found only in the DR, created by volcanic forces. My chemical engineer husband was thrilled at the level of science within the museum (chemical structure of the mineral, hardness scale, etc.), and I just liked looking at pretty blue rocks.
The zone is also full of touristy things. We couldn’t resist visiting Kah Kow (https://cacaotour.com/kah-kow-tours/) and making our own chocolate bars. We had already learned about the making of chocolate in Panama, and this was much more high-tech than the solar-powered place we visited near Bocas del Toro. Still, it was fun–and yummy!
The Colonial Zone is bounded on the east by the Ozama River and on the west by Independence Park. (I’ll be posting some photos on the website Gallery soon). We loved visiting Independence Park. A walkway lined with busts of leaders (including numerous women) leads to a Lincoln Monument-esq pavilion honoring the three men considered the greatest heroes of Dominican independence, Duarte, Sanchez, and Mella. We enjoyed just Googling and reading about the turbulent political history of the country and the part these three men played.
Some parts of the Colonial Zone reminded us of Casco Viejo, the old city, in Panama. While some buildings have been beautifully restored and are well used, many others are in various stages of disrepair and ruin. There seems to be a lot of wasted space, but you never know what might be behind a 12-foot, padlocked wooden double door. A hotel? A restaurant? An apartment with a beautiful courtyard fountain and coconut palms? Or a sad, abandoned building that just waiting for a new life?
Our hotel had one of those beautiful courtyards and reminded Bob and me, New Mexico natives that we are, that we love Spanish colonial architecture. The particular architect for the Luca Hotel (http://lucahotel.do/, which we found through Booking.com) had a blast. He retained the several-hundred-year-old courtyard stone and adobe wall, decorated with everything from striking black and white photographs and pre-Columbian pottery to modern paintings and those icicle Christmas lights. It proved a charming combination of whimsy, ancient, and new, and the fountain had a couple of tortugas that we greeted on every pass by. A hot tub and “moon deck” on the third floor (next to our room) allowed for good bird and cloud watching, the open-air restaurant on the 4th floor provided good music most of the time, and the staff were very friendly and helpful.
The best part of our hotel, though, was meeting Ann at breakfast. Ann was in DR for a conference — she’s head of the German Red Cross in Haiti. Even more interesting, she’s Belgian, and her former partner and the father of her children is Dominican. She speaks multiple languages (but not German!) and is a delightful conversationalist who has lived a fascinating life. She spent most of her career working for NGOs is impoverished areas, especially Zimbabwe and Angola. Even more interesting, she has a 2.5 hectare farm in Portugal, where she plans to retire. She expects Bob and me to come visit and stay in her little guest house when we head to Portugal in 2020, where he will work on her water system and I’ll pick fruit. We’ll be there!
Ann represents so much of the diversity I alluded to at the beginning of this post. The “doll” in the photo that tops the post is part of an art installation on the The Count’s Gate, a pedestrian walkway lined with shops, souvenir kiosks, restaurants, and colorful paintings that leads from Independence Park to the wall of the old city on the Ozama River. So much to see and do and learn along the way.
2 thoughts on “Long History, Long Post”
I love the history. Very interesting! You make me want to go visit.
DR was never on my list, but Bob wanted to visit after reading about it and learning about it at our conference last fall. We really liked it.
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