Santo Domingo Imperfect yet Irresistible

(Permission is freely granted to use this article so long as our about the author/resource box remains at the end of this article and with all links live.) When Ruth and Esther Ramos embarked on their labor of love, the creation of a wide- ranging resource of information about the Dominican Republic they just knew that a feature focussing on the Dominican Republic's captivating capital City, Santo Domingo, was more than a must! Santo Domingo is often referred to as 'the oldest city in the New World' for it was here that Christopher Columbus, smitten by the many charms of Hispaniola - the Isle he thought the most beautiful land in the World ? eventually made his base. Having abandoned La Isabella their ill-fated first settlement (whilst Columbus was addressing a request by the Queen to return to Spain) - Columbus' brother Bartolome embarked upon the foundations of what has become today's capital city, in the area now known as the 'Zona Colonial'. Indeed, the Columbus palace still stands in the midst of this, the oldest part of Santo Domingo, the city this famous family not only founded but also 'presided' over for several years. But Santo Domingo, like the Dominican Republic itself, has had a chequered history. In many ways it might be considered a City of 'dubious firsts'! It was from Santo Domingo that the 'conquistadores' first set out to dominate the rest of what has since come to be called the 'West Indies', or Caribbean, as well as most of the Americas.

>From here these Europeans invaded the 'New World' generally usurping local natives, slaughtering, pillaging and vastly enriching the Spanish empire in the process. Santo Domingo also has the infamous claim to being the original home of 'the slave trade' as it was here that Africans were first 'forcibly imported' and set to work as enslaved labourers on the burgeoning sugar plantations which made Hispaniola such a valuable asset to Spain for so many years. Even today the Capital of the Dominican Republic may still be judged a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly! But let's start with something positive.and there are some truly excellent aspects to this vibrant, thronging city of life, color and sound - Santo Domingo. The old colonial district, for instance, is a wonderful place, there is no doubt. Its antiquity is almost 'crystallised' as there are still so many well preserved aspects of the original City of Columbus' time that survive.

Many of those travelers who have ventured into Santo Domingo on their first trip to the Dominican Republic have become entranced by its atmosphere and ambience. Like an illicit substance, many have found themselves drawn back again and again by the addictive spell the city seems to cast upon their soul. Situated along the west bank of the Rio Ozama, which empties itself into the Caribbean Sea just here, many of the ancient limestone buildings, memorials to that fateful fifteenth century adoption of Quisqueya by the brutal Spanish, still reign majestically over the harbour area. Here in the heart of the Zona Colonial, a inviting selection of superb restaurants, enticing bars and classy small hotels clamour, cheek by jowl, for your attention as you cruise the ancient cobbled streets. This atmospheric enclave is alive with the sounds for which the Dominican Republic is justly renowned: the mesmerising rhythms of marvellous 'merengue' merge with those of brash and bawdy 'bachata' and the strains of scintillating Cuban 'son'.

This mellifluous melee of spirit-quickening, soul-enhancing, sun-filled music almost seems to illuminate the humid Dominican nights as it pumps insistently until the early hours, from the hive of hot and 'steamy' clubs that insinuate themselves into the City's myriad of alleyways. By the cold light of day, however, the transient visitor to the Dominican capital will soon become aware of an alternative reality as they absorb the 'bigger picture' of Santo Domingo. It is a sad fact that 80 percent of Dominicans live below the poverty level. Inevitably, attracted by the merest possibility of scraping a meagre living from some form of activity in the thronging capital, destitute families live in desperate hovels cobbled from bric-a-brac and other junk. Such shantytowns form the basis of the City's suburbs as you travel further from the Sea.

Long before the itinerant tourist may even become aware of these unfortunate favelas, though, their lungs and eyes will already be testifying to the insidious incidence of airborne pollution that furiously fogs the Santo Domingo air. Petro-chemical emissions endlessly emanate from the slothful streams of teeming traffic that tediously transit the Cities streets in a constant state of imminent grid-lock. Standing out amongst the tumult of traffic the manifold three spoke logos of innumerable Mercedes (Santo Domingo has the highest proportion per capita ownership of the marque in the world!) may jar their senses as the dramatic contrast between the city's Dominican denizens dawns upon them. The Dominican Republic, the country often referred to as Santo Domingo by Dominican themselves, hosts a truly amazing capital city. So, for anyone visiting the DR for the first time (which is no small place by comparison to most other Caribbean venues) if proximity allows, a visit to Santo Domingo, the City, is undoubtedly mandatory! Ruth and Esther Ramos provide some useful insights to the numerous culturally and historically significant sights, and sites, that may be found around the city via their increasingly useful Dominican Republic travel information resource at www.visiting- the-dominican-republic.

com. You will soon realize that it is little wonder that some visitors to the Dominican Republic never find time to stray beyond the bounds of this enthralling City during their whole stay! All in all, as a total experience, it is guaranteed that for anyone with a 'true' travelers spirit the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, will make its indelible mark upon their heart. Like so many before them, they will discover that it is unlikely that one visit will ever be enough! Ruth and Esther Ramos, www.visiting-the-d Copyright 2005, All rights reserved. Article must be published as is (unedited) and with the author's bio paragraph (resource box) and copyright information included.


By: Al Smith & Ruth Ramos

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