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The legacy of Santo Domingo.

Santo Domingo was the first city founded in the New World and - because of this unique status - it has also been first in a number of important social and cultural arenas.  more...


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Santo Domingo, the capital the Dominican Republic, boasts a legacy like no other. And it´s not because of its animated nightlife and numerous casinos; passion for baseball, song and dance; and its illustrious sons like the singer Juan Luis Guerra who has cemented Santo Domingo into the popular consciousness. It goes much further than that: Santo Domingo was the first city founded in the New World and - because of this unique status - it has also been first in a number of important social and cultural arenas.

Lacking a beach but blessed with a malecon (seaside promenade) that´s more than once doubled for the famous one in Havana on the sister island of Cuba, Santo Domingo´s beauty is reflected in its many historical and architectural jewels, in particular those of its so-called Colonial City.

A walled patrimony that transports visitors and residents back in time, the city of Santo Domingo was founded in 1496, at the turn of the 15th century. Its founder was not just any conquistador, even if he´d been overshadowed a little by his more famous relative: Don Bartolome Columbus, the brother of Christopher, who laid the foundations of what´s now a metropolis home to more than two million inhabitants in the region known as the Distrito Nacional (National District).

Santo Domingo is home to the first cathedral in the New World, Santa Maria La Menor; the first monastery and the first hospital; the first university; the first military fortress; and the first courthouse. Imposing houses with a Medieval air and cobblestone streets embrace centuries of history, and all of this didn´t go unnoticed by UNESCO: The area was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1990.

All of this history can be explored by foot, and in between your various tours, you can take a break at any of the area´s picturesque restaurants, bars and cafes. As far as historical exploration, nothing surpasses the Colonial City: Here you´ll also find the Diego Colon Palace (Also known as El Alcazar, which was ordered built by Christopher Columbus´ son), the Museum of the Royal Houses and the 18th-century Sun Dial.

But if you want to do more than just explore its history or savor its delights with a refreshing Morir Soñando (a drink made of orange juice, milk and sugar that´s named, literally, "To Die Dreaming") while imagining what the capital must have been like centuries before, you can get closer to the city´s roots by checking out hotel Nicolas de Ovando on Calle Las Damas, named after the first governor in the Americas. The building that houses this luxury hotel was originally constructed in 1502 and is located in the heart of the colonial zone. Today it combines historical elegance with contemporary style, offering haute cuisine, tropical cocktails in the pool area and rum tasting in the Cibao cigar club and bar (the tobacco industry is one of the most important ones in the country, with the United States being its biggest market).

On the other side of the Ozama River that borders the Colonial City, the Faro a Colon (Columbus´ Lighthouse) is illuminated at night by a spectacular light show. Designed in the form of a cross, this mausoleum was inaugurated in 1992 to honor the 500th anniversary of Columbus´ discovery of America. The remains of the famous admiral purportedly lie inside, although that´s been disputed by Spain.

From its earliest years, the arts and culture were essential elements in the conception of this city, earning it the nickname "Athens of America." The reality today isn't that far off, as Santo Domingo is home to numerous museums and art galleries.

In the heart of the city lies an oasis called the Culture Plaza, which encompasses four museums-The Museum of the Dominican Man, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of History and Geography and the Museum of Natural History-as well as the National Library and the National Theatre.

But not everything here is frozen in time as if it were one of the beautiful and popular amber fossils that form part of the nation's jewelry offerings; both the ancient and the modern blend in a harmonious symphony here. This is a shopper's paradise, featuring modern stores and luxurious boutiques sharing space with handicraft booths and typical creations in the popular Central Plaza and Unicentro Plaza.

The nightlife in Santo Domingo is also just as exciting as the most lively of Dominican merengues, and there are nightclubs and dance venues for every taste. Some of the most outstanding are the Cafe Concierto Bachata Rosa, where you can enjoy live music by local artists, along with appreciating the art works on the walls (Calle La Atarazana 9, Zona Colonial); Guacara Taina, a three-level dance club that's memorable not only for its music, but for its location inside an enormous cavern (Avenida Mirador Sur, Parque Mirador Sur); and Jubilee, the dance venue in the elegant Jaragua Renaissance Hotel & Casino (Avenida George Washington 367).

Note: This article is an excerpt of a text published by Experience Dominican Republic; http://www.experiencedominicanrepublic.com/.

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