This week, we will explore a palace in Santo Domingo and former city hall in Santiago as part of our four-part series in discovering the monuments of the Dominican Republic.
Alcázar de Colón
The Alcázar de Colón, or Columbus Alcazar, located in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is the oldest Viceregal residence in America, and forms part of the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo World Heritage Site. The building houses the Museo Alcázar de Diego Colón, whose collection exhibits the Caribbean’s most important ensemble of European late medieval and Renaissance works of art, which were acquired in the 1950s. The Tapestry collection (spanning from the 15th to 17th centuries) is particularly important and unique in the Caribbean, and includes pieces produced by the Flemish Van Den Hecke family from cartouches created by Charles Le Brun. The Alcázar is the most visited museum in Santo Domingo.
The palace is an impressive construction of coralline blocks that once housed some fifty rooms and a number of gardens and courtyards, although what remains today is about half the size it once was. It was built under Diego Colón, the son of Christopher Columbus; when he became the 4th Governor of the Indies in 1509, he ordered the construction of a family home and governor’s mansion between 1510 and 1512.
During the early Spanish colonial period, the mansion occupied a very important place in history. It was from here that many expeditions of conquest and exploration were planned. In 1586, the palace was sacked by Sir Francis Drake and his forces. As the influence of Santo Domingo waned, the house fell into ruins, and by the mid-18th century was abandoned and in danger of rotting away. It was rescued and extensively restored between 1955 and 1957, being filled with period furniture, artwork, and other accessories. A self-guided tour using a portable audio speaker that discusses each room’s function is available in various languages.
The Palacio Consistorial (Town Hall), now a public museum, is one of the many historical landmarks in Santiago and is distinguished by it’s tower. This building was constructed in the early 1500’s. It was the original location of the old town hall. The Palacio has been remodeled many times during its life-time in which much of the original facade has been hidden and covered over. The remodeling done between 1895 and 1896, brought back much of the buildings original eloquence that can be seen today. (The two level structure was designed by a Belgian architect named Luís Bogaert.) The central plaza is exquisite with its beautiful fountain and surrounding terraces. This historical building now is mainly used for cultural events and art exhibits. If you lose your way in the Colonial Area just look to the sky for this tower with the clock (usually the clock is not working). This unique tower can be seen from most of the surrounding Colonial Zone area.