The Dominican Republic is a recognized tourist destination, with magnificent beaches and resorts, vast extensions of white sand and clear, sparkling waters. It also has the claim as the oldest city in the New World, with its quaint cobble streets and stonework houses.
This beautiful island is steeped in history and culture worthwhile exploring: abundant historical sites, museums, colonial architecture, the first hospital, first sugar mill, first Catholic church this side of the world. Visitors will soon discover that the Dominican Republic offers much more than the typical Caribbean attractions of sun, sand and sea.
Santo Domingo, the capital city, boasts the Alcazar de Colon (Columbus’ Palace): the 22-room palace home of Don Diego Columbus and his family. Built in 1510 and restored in 1955, its structure combines a Gothic-Moorish style with Spanish and Italian Renaissance features.
The Alcazar Museum, adjacent to Columbus’ Palace, houses religious and colonial art objects that date back to this era.
The Cathedral of Santa María was built in phases between 1510 and 1540, although the bell tower was never finished. Pope Paul III pronounced it the first cathedral in the New World in 1542. The style comprises late Gothic and Renaissance elements.
La Torre del Homenaje (The Tower of Homage), the oldest military construction in the New World, built in 1503, served as a prison until the 20th century.
Las Las Ruinas del Monasterio de San Francisco (The San Francisco Monastery Ruins), built around 1556, and is the oldest monastery in the New World.
The four churches that follow are among the quaint group of churches dating back to this colonial period.
– Iglesia del Convento Dominico (A Church of the Dominican Order), shaped like a Latin cross, has unique, outstanding altars, dedicated to the Miraculous Virgin, and the Most Holy One. The latter features four apostles sculptured in patina-coated stone.
– The gothic-style Chapel de La Altagracia and the Chapel of Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro, the latter with four Ionic columns, joined by an architrave, dominated by a model of the morning star that announced Christ’s birth.
– Santa Barbara is a restored colonial church and fort, featuring late Gothic elements harmoniously combined with Baroque detail.
– Iglesia de los Padres Jesuitas y Panteon Nacional (A Church run by the Jesuit Fathers and National Pantheon) was built in 1743 as a Jesuit church, but then restored and converted into the National Pantheon in 1958. It has then become the resting grounds for leading national heroes. The central nave forms a cross with the lateral chapels, and a bronze lamp, donated by the Spanish government, hangs in the intersection.
Casa de Cordon (The Cord House), the first Spanish-style home built in the Americas, d was erected by conquistador Francisco de Garay. Surrounding the building was a beautiful gate trimmed with a cord resembling those used used by San Franciscan monks. Today it is a cultural center sponsored by Banco Popular.
Santo Domingo boasts 10 museums, with exhibits ranging from semiprecious gems to prehistoric art from Spain and Portugal.
The Numismatic and Philatelic Museum is said to possess the most comprehensive and valuable collection of antique coins, bills and stamps in the Caribbean dating back to 1865.
The Museum of the Dominican Man traces the origin of Dominican people back to the original Taino Indians and artifacts, including the Spanish conquistadores and African slaves.
The Columbus’ Lighthouse, a towering structure in the form of a cross, constructed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America in 1492. It houses the explorer’s remains, museums and exhibits donated by several countries. The edifice’s 151 light beams can be seen 40 miles away.
Other museums include the National Museum of Natural History, Museum of the Dominican Family, National Museum of History and Geography, Museum of Modern Art and Museum of the Royal Dockyards.
Theater enthusiasts can visit the National Theater, which holds up to 1,700 people and features theatrical, musical and dance performances. The Theater of Fine Arts hosts cultural events and exhibits. Casa de Teatro is a nonprofit institution where people can express their knowledge and ideas about culture, art, theater and concerts in an open forum.
The Amber Museum of Puerto Plata, set in a Victorian mansion, features a large array of prehistoric amber-encased specimens. The Museum of Taino Art, providing insights into the people who first inhabited the Dominican Republic.
While visiting the art galleries, you can appreciate and discover authentic native art which is not the pseudo-primitive art that abounds in other Caribbean islands but more akin to Dominican’s innermost nature. The exportation of works of art is not prohibited
In both rural and urban areas, our people’s collective artistic expression is usually manifested in the production of crafts. A variety of native crafts can be found scattered throughout the city’s business areas and shopping centers.
Places of special interest are: Mercado Modelo, Plaza Criolla, El Conde Street, Las Atarazanas, and Casa de Bastidas, where a wide choice of crafts made by local artists are sold: horn, wood, leather, snail, shell, amber and larimar articles; pottery, ceramics, basketry, embroidery and locally manufactured cotton fabrics.
But, don’t leave the country without a typical mahogany and guano (dried leaf from a palm tree variety) rocking chair, already packed for easy shipping
Dominicans have a great liking for dance. A French observer, Father Labat, who arrived in 1795 when Spain ceded the island to France by the Treaty of Basle, commented in this respect: “Dance is in Santo Domingo, the favorite passion, and I don’t believe that there is a anywhere in the world a people more attracted to dance”.
Here, to this day, it is customary to rock and sing lullabies to children before they fall asleep. The child grows up amidst singing games, and the practice of singing before starting school work continues. The adolescent peasant sings tunes, plenas, and cantos de hacha (axe songs) in the conuco (plot of land for cultivation). He sings while praying and when he falls in love; hence the custom of singing serenades to profess his love to his beloved. And when in the countryside a child dies, they sing the baquiní.
Of all the rhythms that enrich our folklore, the merengue is the people’s expression; and, as a popular expression, it varies from generation to generation in the same measure our lifestyle changes.
We are happy people that vibrate to the rhythm of its vernacular music; and that, as the ditty from a carnival song says: “…dance in the street by day, dance in the street by night”. Everyone who hears a merengue vibrates with us to the contagious rhythm of the guira, the tambora (small drum),and the accordion
The guira is a typical Dominican instrument that consists of a grater made of latten brass in the shape of a hollow cylinder that when rubbed with a scraper, emits a buzzing rhythmic sound. Our Indian population used it in the areito, (Indian ceremonial song and dance). They made it from the attractive fruit of the gourd, from which they extracted the pulb and then scraped it to later rhythmically rasp it with a forked stick. There are still pericos ripiaos that use this type of guira.
The perico ripiao, minimal music expression, is composed of a three man group that interprets vernacular music. The Dominican tambora owes its peculiar sound to having on one side, the skin of an old male goat, tempered with native rum, and on the other, the skin of a young female goat that has not given birth.