Santiago de los Caballeros, the second largest metropolis in Dominican Republic, is our first stop on the road trip. La Ciudad Corazon (The Hearth City) was founded in 1495 during the first wave of European colonization of the New World. Destroyed and burned down a few times by earthquakes and invasions, there are not many striking examples of colonial architecture left in the city, or many extraordinary tourist attractions. Set in a valley in the north-central region of the country, surrounded by mountains, everyone will tell you there is not much to see in Santiago besides busy streets and noisy crowds. Yet, we discover a few spots of interest, murals, and an art gallery with stunning contemporary Dominican art.
We climb the steps to the 67 meters high Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration built on a hill overlooking Santiago. To understand the importance of the War of Restoration one must be familiar with the Dominican Republic prior history.
After the Conquista, the Dominican Republic, then named Santo Domingo, became and remained for decades the headquarters of Spanish power in the hemisphere. Following the French Revolution Spain ceded Santo Domingo to France in 1795. Only 6 years later, in 1801, as a result of one of the greatest slave-revolutions in human history led by Toussaint Louverture the western portion of the island of Hispaniola became the first independent nation in the New World, the Republic of Haiti, where slavery was no more. East of Haiti, Santo Domingo remained under French rule.
In 1808, after a revolt against French rule and with the aid of Great Britain and Haiti, Santo Domingo returned to Spanish control. Fourteen years later, following a failed attempt to become independent, Santo Domingo was invaded by Haitian troops. Slavery was abolished and most private property, Church property, and Crown property was nationalized. But Dominican people were subjected to pay heavy tribute to Haiti, the occupation troops were unpaid and had to “forge and sack” from civilians. Anti-Haitian movements gathered force.
In 1838 Juan Pablo Duarte founded a secret society called La Trinitaria, which sought the complete independence of Santo Domingo without any foreign intervention, which was accomplished on February 27, 1844. For this reason, Duarte is considered The Founding Father of The Dominican Nation. But independence did not mean end of troubles. Political and economic difficulties along with four more Haitian invasions marked the next 12-year period. To protect the new nation from another Haitian invasion, Santana who was in power at that time, signed a pact with the Spanish Crown and reverted the Dominican nation to colonial status, the only Latin American country to ever do so.
In 1863 opponents to Santana, among whom General Gregorio Luperon, launched the War of Restoration, and in 1865 independence was restored.
After the Monument of the Restoration War, we enjoy fruity ice creams in the Columbus Park in the center of Santiago. Next to the white Cathedral of Santiago built in 1895 there is a beautiful park with tropical flowers and palms and a little round marble stage in the middle.
Such park next to a church can be found in every big and small town in Dominican Republic; the bigger the town, the bigger the park.
The one in Santiago is particularly interesting with its theme La Conquista and its hero Christopher Columbus.
Next we tour El Museo Historico Fortaleza San Luis, free admission. Once a prison, its buildings now host an art school, the National Drug Control and Intelligence Agency, and an open-doors Fine Art gallery. The paintings exhibited in the Fine Art gallery are stunning examples of Dominican contemporary art.
The very essence of lo dominicano, Dominican culture, nature, and history, scenes from every day’s life and specific historical events are depicted in vivid colors by local artists.
Small mountain villages, white birds in the trees, fruit stands, carnivals in town square, women washing clothes in the river, the poor Haitian mother, the sea, the indigenous heritage, the civil war, the horrors of Trujillo’s tyranny, even the importance of the traditional music, unfold before us in the space of this small gallery and touch our souls.
Art Gallery Paintings
Murals in Santiago