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Strolling through Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial

by Starwood Caribbean

Blast from the Past

Dominicans refer to their homeland as “La tierra que más amó Colón” (The land Columbus loved the most) and perhaps the best way to discover how the country earned this nickname is by visiting Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial, located just a short distance from the Sheraton Santo Domingo.

The cobblestone streets of Santo Domingo are best enjoyed on foot. Loaded with such colorful history going as far back as 1498, there are over 300 different colonial buildings and museums to explore. Opportunities to learn more about the evolution of America’s oldest European settlement are countless. With so much to take in and discover, we recommend starting your journey in Plaza Mayor in Zona Colonial, the very heart of Christopher Columbus’ “New World.”

The Kitchen

As far as lunch and dinner go, locrio and la bandera are two dishes that can’t be missed. Locrio is a rice dish La Zona Colonial spans some 12 blocks on grounds mapped out by one of the area’s first governors in 1502. The winding city streets and juxtaposition of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings around Spanish-style plazas clearly reflect Spanish influence on the island. The layout of the colonial zone has been credited as the model from which all other colonized cities in Latin America have been mapped out.

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The History

Make your first stop at the Catedral Primada de América. Having landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492, the vision of establishing Spanish power in the West Indies included the inauguration of universities, hospitals, government palaces and cathedrals. In fact, the first stone was set in place for the construction of one of the oldest Spanish-style cathedrals in the Western hemisphere by Christopher Columbus’ son, Diego, in 1514. Since then, the Catedral Primada has been added to Unesco’s World Heritage List. Over 20 years of work on the building reflect shifts in architecture from that time, inspired by the Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance art movements. Pirate attacks in the late 1580s also contributed to the temple’s ever-evolving interior and exterior design. A perfect site to visit on sunny, hot afternoons, the high-vaulted ceilings keep the building cool and streams of light bring life to the stained glass works by Dominican artist José Rincón Mora.

From Catedral Primada, let Columbus’ statue point you in the right direction and head to Fortaleza Ozama and Torre del Homenaje (the Tower of Homage). Strategically built between the Caribbean Sea and the Ozama River overlooking the harbor, the grounds of Santo Domingo’s fortress are organized around the watchtower and include shooting grounds and an ammunition or powder house. The military outpost was fortified with multiple walls and rows of cannons, and constructed using pieces of coral harvested from the sea. In addition to serving as a camp for soldiers, the structure later became a prison before opening its doors as a cultural site in the 1970s. The trek up the steep tower stairs is well worth it when you reach the top to snap a photo of stunning panoramic, island views.

Step Back in Time

From the fort, a walk along the city’s oldest street, Calle Las Damas, brings you to the Alcázar de Colón, former residence of Christopher Columbus’ son Diego. The building itself with its first and second-story arches opens up onto Plaza España. During the 16th century, the building served as a governor’s palace and courthouse, and the Spanish used it as a base for planning the conquest of other American territories. The space has been transformed into a museum, giving visitors the chance to step into art, furniture and tapestry displays that offer an even deeper glimpse into the days and times of Columbus.

Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial invites us to truly step back in time. A stroll up and down the streets to take in the sights and sounds of the area encourages us to slip into a different era, where Taíno natives, Spanish fleets and pirates form a panorama unique to the Dominican Republic, and so characteristically Santo Domingo.

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Sheraton Santo Domingo Hotel

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

365 George Washington Avenue, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I02-05, (1)(809) 221 6666

Overlooking the Caribbean and near the Colonial Zone, our hotel boasts modern rooms, upscale dining, a casino, and ample event space.

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Strolling through Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial