The capital city of the Dominican Republic is Santo Domingo. A thriving metropolis with a population of nearly two and a half million inhabitants, it is the heart of the country, with the name Santo Domingo referring not only to the city but to the province in which it is based. It has a long and varied history, having changed its name in the 1930s to Ciudad Trujillo under the presidency of Rafael Trujillo and then back again when he was assassinated in 1961. Santo Domingo is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas, having been founded in 1496 by Bartholemew Columbus, younger brother of Christopher. The city and the province are named for the country’s patron Saint – known in English as Saint Dominic, who is also the patron saint of astronomers.
After its foundation, Santo Domingo was one of the hubs of the exploration carried out by the various explorers who set out to conquer and deliver the New World (as South America was often referred to at the time) for their respective royal families. Of the many colonising armies who were operative in the world at the outset of the 16th Century and onwards, such notable names as Francis Drake and Oliver Cromwell sent forces to take the city. Drake succeeded, while Cromwell’s army – dispatched but not led by Cromwell, who remained in Europe – failed and decided to take Jamaica. During this time, Santo Domingo was the sole outpost of the Spanish colonisers.
As a city, Santo Domingo is a highly cosmopolitan center of population, which is something it has in common with the Dominican Republic in general. This has a lot to do with how it was visited time and again by colonising powers. Between the end of the 18th century it changed hands between France, Spain and a Haitian slave rebellion, and the city itself bears all the hallmarks of one that has been through a chequered history, with the continuing development of Santo Domingo visible in the hugely varied architecture. The Zona Colonial features buildings from the 17th century whereas elsewhere there is highly modern architecture, especially in the downtown area, with numerous tower blocks.
Santo Domingo has more universities than any other city in the Dominican Republic, with eighteen. Among these, Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo is the oldest university in all of the New World. This demonstrates the city’s history and its modernity all at once, with the fact that it has been among the forefront of development demonstrated to its fullest.
Things to look for should you visit Santo Domingo include the Zona Colonial, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. This area is home to the oldest cathedral in the Americas, Catedral Santa María La Menor. Nearby, thanks to Santo Domingo’s coastal location, is a thriving seafront area surrounding La Malecón. In addition there are numerous museums which bear reference to Santo Domingo’s long and varied history, many parks and recreational spots, and a plethora of shopping centres.