Spanish explore Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola (which the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti) on his first voyage in 1492, and Santo Domingo was founded by his brother Bartholemy in 1496. The largest city in the Caribbean and the oldest continuously inhabited location in the Americas, Santo Domingo has a modern feel mixed with some of the first outposts of the New World. Here are some top sites that speak to the city’s history.
Columbus Alcazar (Alcázar de Colón)
The entire Zona Colonial is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Alcazar is one of the highlights. The building was completed in 1512 and was once the home of Diego Columbus (son of Christopher Columbus), who acted as Governor of Hispaniola, and his wife María de Toledo. The couple’s bedrooms, grand entertaining hall, and intricate inlaid floors are well preserved.
Columbus Lighthouse (Faro a Colon)
The exact location of Christopher Columbus’ remains are unknown. Some believe he is buried in a tomb in Seville Cathedral in Southern Spain, while others swear that the mausoleum here at the Columbus Lighthouse (Faro a Colon) is his final resting place. Whatever the case, this huge cross-shaped 10-story building, finished in the 1990s to mark 500 years since the 1492 discovery, is an atmospheric memorial to the great days of exploration.
Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor (Catedral Primera de América)
A lasting reminder of the historically close relationship between the Catholic church and the Spanish state, the Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor was built during the 1500s by a succession of architects. The building that stands today is a combination of Gothic, Romanesque, and baroque styles, and plays its own role in the history of Santo Domingo: The English explorer Francis Drake used the cathedral as his headquarters while briefly gaining possession of the city in the 1580s.