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Caribbean World Heritage Sites: Ciudad Colonial (Santo Domingo) in the Dominican Republic

by Karen Rollins Aug 7, 2023

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Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo

“World Heritage is the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity… World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.” – WHC website. 

The Caribbean is home to 16 cultural and nine natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites spread over 14 territories. These sites speak to the history, culture, and development of the region, and its outstanding natural beauty. 

Let’s get to know the Caribbean’s World Heritage Sites – Ciudad Colonial (Santo Domingo) in the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic’s Ciudad Colonial (Spanish for ‘Colonial City’) was founded in 1498 by Bartholomew Columbus.

Once known as “the capital of the West Indies”, this city was the place of departure for the spread of European culture in the Americas with several conquerors, such as Ponce de Leon, Juan de Esquivel, and Herman Cortes, leaving from here to establish new colonies.

Renowned for being a ‘city of firsts’, Ciudad Colonial was the site for the Western Hemisphere’s first cathedral, first monastery, first hospital, first university, and first court of law.

In 1502, Governor Nicolas de Ovando, laid the city out on a grid pattern that became the model for almost all town planners in the Americas. By 1507, the city had become the official seat of the Spanish administration in the ‘New World’.

According to UNESCO, the site “covers an area of 106 hectares, bordered by walls, bastions and forts, the inscribed site comprises 32 streets that criss-cross the 116 blocks, constructions of one or two levels with stone, brick or earthen walls.” There are around 300 sites of interest within the area including great houses, impressive streets, churches, statues, and monuments. 

The city has retained its original plan and the scale of its streets along with its buildings are almost totally intact which makes it the only living urban centre to keep its characteristics from the 15th century.

Visitors to Ciudad Colonial will need at least a few days to really take in everything the Colonial Zona has to offer and when you have finished exploring this historic district there is still the rest of Santo Domingo to discover.

Sources: UNESCOLopesan Costa Bavaro, and U.S. Travel News.

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