Santo Domingo, or Santo Domingo de Guzmán, is the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic. Its metropolitan population was 2,084,852 in 2003, and estimated at 2,253,437 in 2006. The city is located on the Caribbean Sea, at the mouth of the Ozama River. Founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496, it is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas, and was the first seat of Spanish colonial rule in the New World. Santo Domingo came to be known as the "Gateway to the Caribbean". It lies within the boundaries of the Distrito Nacional (D.N.; "National District"), itself bordered on three sides by Santo Domingo Province. Santo Domingo bore the name "Ciudad Trujillo", after the country's dictator, from 1930 to 1961.
Please note: When this article refers to Santo Domingo it is most likely referring to the Greater Santo Domingo Area (Distrito Nacional plus Santo Domingo Province). In some cases it may state "D.N.", which strictly refers to the city proper, i.e., excluding the surrounding province of Santo Domingo.
Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Taíno people populated the island they called Quisqueya (mother of all lands) and Ayiti (land of high mountains), which Columbus named Hispaniola. It includes the part now occupied by the Republic of Haiti. At the time, the island's territory consisted of five chiefdoms: Marién, Maguá, Maguana, Jaragua, and Higüey. These were ruled respectively by caciques (chiefs) Guacanagarix, Guarionex, Caonabo, Bohechío, and Cayacoa.
Dating to 1496, when the Spanish settled there, and officially to 5 August 1498, Santo Domingo is the oldest European city in America. Bartholomew Columbus founded the settlement and named it La Isabela, after the Queen of Spain Isabella I. It was later renamed "Santo Domingo", in honor of Saint Dominic.
Santo Domingo was destroyed by a hurricane in 1502, and the new Governor Nicolás de Ovando had it rebuilt on a different site nearby. The original layout of the city and a large portion of its defensive wall can still be appreciated today throughout the Colonial Zone, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990. The Colonial Zone, bordered by the Río Ozama, also has an impressive collection of 16th century buildings, including palatial houses and majestic churches that reflect the architectural style of the late medieval period.
The city's most important colonial buildings include the Catedral Santa María La Menor, called La Catedral Primada de América, America's First Cathedral, which states its distinction; the Alcázar de Colón, America's first castle, once the residence of Viceroy of the Indies Don Diego Colón, a son of Christopher Columbus; the Monasterio de San Francisco, the ruins of the first monastery in America; the Museo de las Casas Reales, the former Palace of the Governor General and the Palace of Royal Audiences; the Parque Colón (Columbus Park), a historic square; the Fortaleza Ozama, the oldest fortress in America; the Pantéon Nacional, a former Jesuit edifice now hosting the remains of various renowned members of the Dominican Order; and the Iglesia del Convento Dominico, the first convent in America.
Throughout its first century, Santo Domingo was the launching pad for much of the exploration and conquest of the New World. The expeditions that led to Hernando Cortes' conquest of Mexico and Balboa's sighting of the Pacific Ocean all started from Santo Domingo.
In 1586, Francis Drake captured the city, which he held for ransom. Drake's invasion and pillaging of Hispaniola so weakened Spanish dominion over the island that for more than 50 years all but the capital was abandoned and left to the mercy of the pirates. An expedition sent by Oliver Cromwell in 1655 attacked the city of Santo Domingo, but was defeated, and withdrew and took Jamaica, instead
From 1795 to 1822 the city changed hands several times along with the colony it headed. It was ceded to France in 1795, captured by rebellious Haitian slaves in 1801, recovered by France in 1802, recovered by Spain in 1809. In 1821 Santo Domingo became the capital of an independent nation, Haití Español. This was two months later conquered by Haiti. The city and the colony lost much of their Spanish population as a result of these events
Santo Domingo was again the capital of a free nation, when Dominicans gained their independence from Haitian rule on February 27, 1844 led by their national hero Juan Pablo Duarte. The city was a prize fought over by various political factions over the succeeding decades of instability. In addition, the country had to fight multiple battles with Haiti; the Battle of March 19, Battle of March 30, Battle of Las Carreras, and Battle of Beler, are a few of the most prominent encounters, mentioned in the national anthem and with city streets named after them. In 1861 Spain returned to the country, having struck a bargain with Dominican leader Pedro Santana whereby the latter was granted several honorific titles and privileges, in exchange for annexing the young nation back to Spanish rule. The Dominican Restoration War began in 1863 however, and in 1865 the country was free again after Spain withdrew.
Over the next two-thirds of a century Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic went through many revolutions, power changes, and occupation by the United States, 1916–24. The city was struck by hurricane San Zenón in 1930, which caused major damage. After its rebuilding, Santo Domingo was known officially as Ciudad Trujillo in honor of dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, who governed from 1930. Following his assassination in 1961 the city was renamed back to Santo Domingo. It was the scene of street fighting during the 1965 United States occupation of the Dominican Republic.
The year 1992 marked the 500th anniversary, El Quinto Centenario, of Christopher Columbus' Discovery of America. The Columbus Lighthouse – Faro a Colón – with an approximate cost of 400 million Dominican pesos and amidst great controversy.
Santo Domingo de Guzmán (DN) and the municipality of Santo Domingo Este
(in S.D. Province) are separated by the Ozama River.
The Ozama river flows 148 kilometers before emptying into the Caribbean Sea. Santo Domingo's position on its banks was of great importance to the city's economic development and the growth of trade during colonial times. The Ozama River is where the country's busiest port is located.
Metropolitan Santo Domingo is divided into four municipalities, mostly for administrative reasons. They consist of Santo Domingo de Guzmán National District and three municipal divisions of Santo Domingo Province: Santo Domingo Norte (Villa Mella Municipal District, etc.), Santo Domingo Este (San Isidro Municipal District, etc.), and Santo Domingo Oeste. These three border Santo Domingo de Guzmán on the north, east, and west, respectively. Bajos de Haina, in San Cristóbal Province, borders Santo Domingo Oeste, in the west. The Ozama River and Isabella end at the Center of Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo is relatively low in altitude, but has several high hills.
Under the Koppen climate classification, Santo Domingo features a Tropical monsoon climate. The average temperature varies little in the city, because the tropical trade winds help mitigate the heat and humidity throughout the year. Thanks to these trade winds, Santo Domingo seldom experiences the oppressive heat and humidity that one may expect to find in a tropical climate. December and January are the coolest months and July and August are the warmest. Santo Domingo averages 1445 mm of precipitation per year. Its driest months are from January through April, however, due to the tradewinds, precipitation is seen even during these months. Because its driest month is just below 60 mm, Santo Domingo falls under the Tropical monsoon climate category. Like many other nations in the Caribbean, Santo Domingo is very susceptible to hurricanes.
The city is the center of economic activity in the Dominican Republic. Many national and international firms have their headquarters or regional offices in Santo Domingo. The city attracts many international firms and franchises due to its geographic location, stability, and vibrant economy.
The infrastructure is adequate for most business operations; however, power outages continue to be a problem in certain parts of the city. A key element that has helped the city thrive and compete globally is the telecommunications infrastructure. For many years the Dominican Republic has enjoyed a modern and state of the art telecommunications system, due to its privatization and integration with the US system.
Santo Domingo contains a wide variety of incomes, ranging from the extremely poor to the highly rich. Areas of high income families are found in the central Polygon of the city, which is bordered by the Avenida John F. Kennedy ("Avenida" = "Avenue") to the north, Avenida 27 de Febrero to the south, Avenida Winston Churchill to the west and Avenida Máximo Gómez to the east, and is characterized by its mostly residential area and its distinguished nightlife.
Santo Domingo has areas of high development, among them Naco, Arroyo Hondo, Piantini, Paraíso, Bella Vista, Sarasota and other neighborhoods, which mostly consist of costly buildings and luxury houses, contrasting with the outskirts of the city like Gualey and Capotillo which are less economically developed.
Bella Vista and La Esperilla are currently the neighborhoods with the highest income growth and with tall mega-projects marking the city skyline. Gazcue belongs to the more traditional southeastern area of the city and is characterized by its slightly older constructions, dating from the 1930s to the 1960s.
The commercial centers in the city are mostly found on Avenida Winston Churchill, where large plazas, such as Acropolis Center, and large supermarkets are found. This area is home to most of the banks in the city, like Scotiabank, Citibank, Banco BHD, Banco del Progreso, and Banreservas, to name a few. 27 de Febrero Avenue is very commercially successful and is considered the most important crosstown avenue in the city. The oldest mall plazas in the country are Plaza Central and Plaza Naco, which served as the first commercial center in the city, until the recent construction of others, which quickly became new alternatives. Bella Vista Mall and the Acropolis Center are two of the newest malls built in the city, attracting many of the high income families.
Most of the city's poor live outside the center. Some live in extreme conditions of poverty and in slums, intensifying the city's economic contrast.
Panoramic view of Santo Domingo