Santo Domingo

Short history

Santo Domingo, the oldest permanent European settlement in the Western Hemisphere, was founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus. It is the capital of the Dominican Republic. The city’s historical significance stems from its role in Spanish expeditions and conquests in the Americas, transitioning from French and Spanish rule to independence in 1844. The Colonial Zone is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As the political, economic, and cultural epicenter of the Spanish Caribbean during the colonial era, Santo Domingo served as a starting point for expeditions to other regions. Its impact on trade and commerce between Europe and the New World was profound, solidifying its position in shaping the course of history.

In the 20th century, Santo Domingo underwent rapid industrial growth, witnessing the flourishing of industries like metallurgy and food processing facilitated by hydroelectric dams. 

Geography

Santo Domingo is positioned on the southeastern coast of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean region. It is situated at the mouth of the Ozama River, making it a key port city for the country. The city’s terrain is relatively flat, with some hilly areas surrounding it.

The climate in Santo Domingo is tropical, with distinct wet and dry seasons. The average temperature ranges from 70°F to 88°F throughout the year, with the wettest months typically occurring between May and November.

Administratively, Santo Domingo is divided into several municipalities, with the National District serving as the core urban area. The city is also part of the greater Santo Domingo province, which includes municipalities outside the capital’s immediate borders. 

Population

Santo Domingo has a population of approximately 2.9 million people. Residents come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, with a majority being of mixed African and European descent, along with a significant population of Haitian immigrants.

The population primarily identifies as Roman Catholic, with a growing presence of other Christian denominations, as well as smaller communities of Jewish and Muslim residents. Spanish is the official language, but English is becoming more prevalent, especially in tourism and business sectors.

Main sights

  • Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone: UNESCO World Heritage Site with attractions like the Alcázar de Colón and the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor.
  • Alcázar de Colón, constructed by Diego Colón, son of Christopher Columbus. It’s a palace and a museum, displaying colonial artifacts.
  • Interconnected caves of Los Tres Ojos.
  • The National Pantheon, once a Jesuit church, now serves as the final resting place for national heroes of the Dominican Republic.
  • Malecón, a promenade on Caribbean Sea coast, lined with restaurants, shops, and parks.
  • Museo de las Casas Reales. Housed in a former colonial palace, this museum features exhibits on indigenous culture, colonial governance, and independence movements.
  • Faros a Colón, monumental lighthouses erected in honor of Christopher Columbus’s historic journey to the Americas.

Traditional Dominican Dishes

  • Mangu is a breakfast favorite in Santo Domingo, made from mashed plantains and typically accompanied by fried cheese, eggs, and salami
  • Sancocho, a stew popular in the region, features a variety of meats and vegetables like yams, corn, and plantains, seasoned with a blend of herbs and spices
  • Tres Golpes is well-loved dish in Santo Domingo, comprising mashed plantains, fried cheese, and fried eggs, often served with fried salami or Dominican-style sausage
  • La Bandera, considered the national dish of the Dominican Republic, consists of rice, stewed beans, and meat like chicken, beef, or pork
  • Pastelón de Plátano Maduro isa casserole with layers of ripe plantains, seasoned ground meat, and cheese, baked to a golden finish
  • Chicharrón de Pollo offers crispy fried chicken chunks seasoned with garlic, lime, and Dominican spices.
  • Habichuelas con Dulce is dessert-like dish made with boiled red beans, coconut milk, sugar, and spices. This treat is commonly enjoyed during Lent and Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Santo Domingo

Fun facts

  • Santo Domingo is the location of the first cathedral, university, hospital, and monastery in the Americas. It also served as the site of the initial permanent European settlement in the New World.
  • The city was where Diego Columbus, the first European child born in the Americas and son of Christopher Columbus, came into the world.
  • The historical Alcazar de Colon in Santo Domingo was once the home of Diego Columbus.