Colonial Museums: A Fascinating Glimpse at the Past

Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone was the first to be built by Europeans in the Americas. Walking its centuries-old streets, and visiting its museums, is an enriching and fascinating experience. Visitors will be transported to a magical journey through the country’s history. The traces of the original Spanish settlers are found in the Zone’s museums, where visitors will be able to reconstruct the various stages of the country’s colonial history and its influence on contemporary culture.

Alcazar de Colon (The Palace of Columbus)

This museum, which is one of the most visited in the city of Santo Domingo, was the home of Viceroy Diego Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus.

The “Alcazar,” or Palace, was the first fortified palace built by the Spaniards upon their arrival in the Americas. Built between 1510 and 1514 with coral rocks, historians believe that at least three generations of the Columbus family resided there, possibly until 1577. Other important figures, representatives of the Spanish Crown, also lived there. Currently, the “Alcazar” is home to a rich collection of more than 800 period pieces.

Location: Spanish Square, Colonial Zone.
Hours: Daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Museum of the Royal Houses

The current museum was the first Palace of the Royal Court, or Palace of the Captain General. It later became the first official institution of the Americas. The museum offers visitors the finest examples of what life was like during the colonial period. Its nine halls, distributed in two buildings, cover three centuries of Dominican history, beginning in the colonial period. One of the buildings was dedicated to the Palace of the Governors, the official residence of all island governors beginning in 1526 and ending during the French occupation. The other structure housed the offices of the Royal Court.

Location: Las Damas Street.
Hours: Daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

“Casa de Tostado” (The House of Tostado)

This particular structure was one of the first homes to be built in the Americas during the Colonial period. It was by far the most luxurious of all colonial structures. It was the original home of the scribe of Governor Francisco de Tostado. It later became the Palace of Santo Domingo’s Archbishop. One of the building’s main attractions is an Elizabethan Gothic window, the only one built in the Americas.

Today, the former residence is currently the Museum of the Dominican Family of the 19th Century. It features truly authentic objects, including the beautiful painting “The Adoration of the Magi,” attributed to 16th century Spanish painter Juan de Juanes, and a ceramic vase that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte and donated to former Dominican President Ulises Heureaux by the French government.

Location: Billini Street.
Hours: Monday – Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Convent of the Dominican Friars

The Convent is one of the country’s most important historic structures, and certainly one of the oldest in the New World. During the Colonial period, the Convent was the residence of the Dominican friars, the first missionaries to arrive in the Americas. This particular order was known for its rejection of the abuses committed against the native population by the Spanish crown.

In 1511 Friar Antonio Montesinos delivered the “Montesinos Sermon,” where he publicly denounced the abuses that were being committed against the slaves. To many, this sermon launched the struggle for human rights.

The church of the Convent features an interesting mix of architectural styles, ranging from the Romanesque to the Baroque styles, and five chapels. One of these chapels, the “Chapel of the Rosary,” was decorated with the zodiac signs placed around the sun and four Greek gods that represented the four seasons. It is unique in the Americas, and it is one of only three church domes decorated with astrological signs in the world.

In 1534 the Convent became the first study center of the Americas. In 1538, under a special bull issued by Pope Paul III, the center became the University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the first in the Americas. The museum provides visitors with audio guides in different languages.

Location: Billini Street.
Hours: Daily from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Naval Museum of “Las Atarazanas”

This museum is a unique experience for all those interested in naval history and in shipwrecks. The museum is located in what was once the first royal shipyard in the New World, and the first customs house. “Las Atarazanas” became the hub for all commercial activities on the island and the region.

Today, this museum is home to the richest collection of the continent’s underwater archaeology. On exhibit are unique pieces shipwrecks in Dominican territorial waters between the 16th and 19th centuries, including guns, china, coins, cutlery and actual pieces of ships that went down in nearby waters.

Location: Colon Street.
Hours: Daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

This post is also available in: Spanish, French, German, Russian, Portuguese

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