February 10, 2017 A Day in the Colonial Zone
If you're going to get a tour of a city, what better than to have it from a man with the eye of an architect, the knowledge of a historian, and the sense of joy of a kid showing you his new toy. For us, that would be architect and teacher Alex Martinez Suárez.
Today we're heading for the Zona Colonial, the oldest part of the city, and the first permanent establishment in the New World. En route, we pass the National Palace of the Dominican Republic that houses the offices of the Executive Branch (Presidency and Vice Presidency) of the Dominican Republic.
Alex, born and raised in Santo Domino, points out older traditional homes with traditional architecture he predicts may be torn down as gentrification spreads throughout neighborhoods in Santo Domingo especially around the colonial zone. The zone is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It won't surprise you that Santo Domingo has its share of traffic congestion downtown.
A musical interlude like this might surprise you VIDEO
Neighborhoods with small shops; ubiquitous street vendors as we continue toward the Colonial Zone
Our tour of Santo Domingo begins as Alex drives us through the narrow streets toward the Zona Colonial, properly named Cuidad Colonial, 'Spanish City". It's loaded with historic buildings and Alex knows the history of every one of them.
"Ciudad Colonial (Spanish for "Colonial City") is the historic central neighborhood of Santo Domingo and the oldest permanent European settlement of the New World. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is colloquially known as "Zona Colonial" (Colonial Zone). The Ciudad Colonial is located on the west bank of the Ozama River, which bisects the city. It covers less than 5 square kilometers.
Dating back over 500 years, the Colonial Zone was founded by Christopher Columbus' less famous brother, Bartolmeu. Stone has proven to be the building material of choice (or perhaps, necessity). "
Park on Hostas Street at the Ruinas De LaIglesia Y Hospital De San Nicolas De Bari, the first hospital in America, built in 1503. The Order of Franciscans arrived in 1502 with Governor Nicolas de Ovando (a name we'll see often). We are a ten minute walk to El Condé, the main street of the Zona Colonial.
Admire El Convento de los Dominicos, begun in 1510, completed in 1538, it became the first university in the New World, known as Universidad de Santo Tomás de Aquino.We didn't enter but inside, the Chapel of Nuestra Señora del Rosario is one of only three chapels in the world whose vault is decorated with the signs of the zodiac.
On to a grand Promenade on El Condé Street, a must see for visitors and favorite destination for residents.
"El Conde street is one of the first streets built by Europeans in America and dates back to the founding of the city of Santo Domingo. By Frey Nicolás de Ovando In 1502.With a distance of approximately one kilometer, it begins at Las Damas Street, topped by an old staircase that goes down to the Ozama River and ends at the Puerta del Conde."
Like Charles Street in Boston or La Rampa in Barcelona, the street has been the site of important political, social and, in the case of El Condé, religious events. And like the others, they are now home of commercial enterprises of all kinds and fabulous places for people watching.
Our guide Alex Martinez knows every meter of this street. He was chosen to design this historic plaque to honor the Edificio Baquero.
El Edificio Baquero: Built in the 1920s, Alex says it used to be the tallest building in Santo Domingo and boasted the first elevator in the city. The curved front of the building with its carved balconies partially seen on left are gorgeous.
Informative signage lines the street, a boon for tourists, especially if you have a smart phone app to translate.
There's always time and certainly lots of places for a drink and conversation; endless opportunities for people watching.
El Condé Street ends at the Ozama River about a mile away. Shop, sit, talk,eat, drink...meander all the way the Ozama River at the end of the x mile street LINK
Edificio Cerame, The ground floor was used to store fabrics, clothes, shoes, tablecloths, perfumes, etc. It was the first time that street displays were used in the country. "Why are they painting it that color!" Alex exclaims.
Sederias California, sort of the Marshalls of Santo Domingo, but duty free. It carries a mix of price categories on three floors, lots of clothing from expensive to more affordable but with good quality.
But no need to enter Sederias California if some of this clothing appeals to you. El Condé Street is a window shoppers dream...and if you get hungry, pizza!
For Alex, the Colonial Zone is like his back yard, he knows every street, every building and great places to eat.
Next, a tour of the Museo Ferdinand Peña Defilló, a museum Alex is in the process of remodeling.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.