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Santo Domingo

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on December 7, 2012

The oldest continuously-occupied European settlement in the Western Hemisphere and the largest port in the Caribbean Islands

 Santo Domingo, on the southern coast of Hispaniola at the mouth of the Ozama River, is the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic.  It was founded in 1496 by Christopher Columbus’ brother Bartholomew and originally called La Neuva Isabella, in honor of Queen Isabella of Spain.  It quickly became the base from which Spanish forces ventured forth to conquer significant parts of the Americas.  Ponce de León left from Santo Domingo in 1508 to colonize Puerto Rico.  Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar departed in 1511 to conquer Cuba.  Santo Domingo was the starting point in 1513 for Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s voyage to Panama and his eventual sighting of the South Sea (Pacific Ocean).  Hernando Cortes left from there in 1519 on his historic voyage to Mexico and his confrontation with the Aztec.  The original port (located on the east side of the Ozama River) was virtually destroyed by a hurricane in 1502 and was then rebuilt on the west side, which remains the city center to this day.  Francis Drake, operating as a privateer and before being elevated to knighthood by Queen Elizabeth, captured Santo Domingo in 1586 and held the city for ransom.  During the English Interregnum, Oliver Cromwell sent an expedition to conquer the city.  The effort failed and the expedition diverted to Jamaica, which proved to be an easier target.  French forces took control of the western portion of Hispaniola late in the eighteenth century.  The island and the city remained in turmoil from then until the middle of the nineteenth century.  After some conflict, Spain ceded Santo Domingo to France in 1795.  In 1801, rebellious Haitian slaves captured the city, which was recovered by France the next year.  During the Napoleonic Era, Santo Domingo was returned to Spain, at that time ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother.  In 1821, the city became the capital of newly independent Spanish Haiti, which was conquered by Haiti almost immediately thereafter.  Led by Juan Pablo Duarte, the Dominican Republic declared its independence from Haiti in 1844.  In 1861, control of the country was returned to Spain.  Following the Restoration War (1863-1865), the Dominican Republic again acquired its status as an independent nation, with Santo Domingo as its capital.  Following an extended period of coups and revolutions, the United States militarily occupied Santo Domingo from 1916 through 1924.  The United States also landed troops briefly in Santo Domingo in 1965 during the unrest after the assassination of long-time dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, during whose reign the city was called Ciudad Trujillo.  Faro a Colón (the Columbus Lighthouse) was erected at the entrance to the Port of Santo Domingo in 1992, marking 500 years since the initial Spanish landings in the New World.  Today, Santo Domingo continues to serve as the largest port in Caribbean Islands, with a population in excess of two million. 

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