Beautiful and intimate Plazoleta / Small Plaza Padre Billini, named after and dedicated to Padre Billini who contributed many important things to the Dominican Republic. Here his statue, made by French sculptor Ernest Gilbert, stands proudly.
Padre Francisco Xavier Billini (December 1, 1837 – March 9, 1896), known as the protector of the poor man. He was also a great Philanthropist. Billini founded the National Lottery in 1882 to help pay for the poorest patients of the Hospital de la Beneficencia. This was the first charity hospital in the Dominican Republic, later known as Hospital San Andrés. We now know the hospital as Hospital Docente Padre Billini located on Calle Santomé in the Colonial Zone.
The Legend of La Casa de Garay
Where this Plazoleta Padre Billini is now, there once was a large beautiful house, The Casa de Garay. This private home was built around 1520. It was torn down because of a disagreement between neighbors.
A widow, who lived in her home where La Bricola Restaurant is located (across the street from the Plaza), saw a sight from her window. A slave from the Casa de Garay decided to milk their masters’ cow in the middle of the street. The elderly lady complained. The owners of the House of Garay made a nasty comment about this. The widows’ nephew heard about the comment and came to his elderly aunts’ defense. He wanted to defend the family name of Franco Medina.
The nephew wanted the owner of the slave to apologize. They even offered to purchase the slave so they could punish him and end the dispute. The owner refused. It was against the law to speak badly or defame someone’s character. It was a very serious offense (and still is in the Dominican Republic). A long court battle entailed because they questioned the persons’ honor. The elderly woman won the lawsuit.
In this time in history, many lawsuits were settled by giving the losers home to the winner of a suit. The owner of the lost home said angrily (general translation) “It’s easy for anyone to get rich!” The Franco Medina family, who won the property, announced that the house will not be lived in by me or anyone. They destroyed the home because they did not want the owner to think the Medina family fought and won just to take the home.
The empty lot was turned into a plaza. This plaza has had many different names over time, including Plaza de las Franco, Plaza de las Lebrón and Plaza de las Mañón. Finally, Damián Báez (the son of Presidente Buenaventura Báez), purchased the property to make a plaza dedicated to Padre Billini.
Plaza Padre Billini Now
The small plaza has benches under large shade trees where you can sit and enjoy the breeze. It is now half occupied by some of the restaurants that line the site. These restaurants are nice but expensive places. You can sit outside in the Plaza or inside the enclosed restaurants or private patios to have a meal and a drink.
They hold many special events in the Plaza from meetings with the President to small intimate weddings. It is a great place to take wedding pictures too.
Walking from Calle el Conde turn on Arzobispo Meriño south toward the sea. Walk about a block and a half and small plaza, Plazoleta Padre Billini, is on the left side before you get to Calle Padre Billini.
Fuerte Invincible and Fuerte San Diego, The Forts on Avenida del Puerto
Two of the many important forts along Rio Ozama were Fuerte Invincible and Fuerte San Diego. They were part of a chain of forts, with cannons at the ready, that defended the colonial city of Santo Domingo and its bustling port from enemy invasions.
All of these forts and walls were raised throughout the XVI century. It is interesting to note that these forts along the riverfront were not planned as one continuous fort. They were built as the need arose and money became available.
Fuerte Invincible is the first fort after Fortaleza Ozama. The fortress, also called San Alberto and Coca (San Alberto y De Coca). This fort was built on the cliffs behind the mansions of Nicolás de Ovando and the Dávila family. Not only was this fort was built for the added defense of the city of Santo Domingo but more importantly to protect the mansions of the richest inhabitants of the city.
In the colonial times it is important to remember that there were no banks. Each rich family had to protect their treasures on their own. When pillagers and pirates attacked these cities they went directly for the houses of the rich and the churches were important wealth and artifacts were stored. This was the purpose of the high walled Fuerte Invincible.
This foreboding sturdy fort had openings for 12 cannons on both its lower and higher shooting platforms. Looking up the tall walls one could only imagine how strong this fort really was.
Fuerte San Diego
Fuerte San Diego was the 3rd fort entering Rio Ozama. This curved fort was also a busy port of entry for the Colonial City of Santo Domingo. It was a very important part of protecting the walled city from attack from marauders entering the Rio Ozama from the Caribbean Sea.
The main part of the fort was destroyed in 1886 to extend the ports. The beautiful fort was reconstructed when the work on the Malecon was finished. The original base of the Fort San Jose was discovered during archaeological excavations.
All that stands now is a small part of the fort in the center of la Avenida del Puerto, a few remnants of the walls of the fort and the rebuilt Puerta San Diego.
Puerta de San Diego
In front of the beautiful Puerta de San Diego / Door of San Diego (dated 1549), also called Puerta de la Mar.
The large stone pillared entrance Puerta de San Diego was completely restored in 1978. Above the door are 3 shields known as escudos. The Shield of the King / El Escudo del Rey, Shield of Hispaniola / Escudo de la Isla La Española and the Shield of Santo Domingo / el Escudo de la Ciudad de Santo Domingo.
As you enter the large stone door you may want to walk on the catwalks over the door and check out the view. Turn right when entering the Puerta San Diego and you will see the stairs leading up to the look-out catwalks. This path over the gate will end in front of the Casa Reales and the Plaza of the Reloj de Sol / Sun Dial.
Bateria del Almirante
After the fort of San Diego, continuing along the wall, are the Bateria del Almirante. These batteries were built into and around the walled part of the house of the Admiral or Alcázar de Colón, located strategically on a hill.
The Puerta Atarazana was another important entrance to the city from the ports. This large doorway entered into the main shipyard of the city. The Alcazar Colon is where Admiral Columbus lived. From here he could keep an eye on all the goods and supplies as the entered and departed from the city. The catwalk above this gate gives another good view or the Rio Ozama and surrounding areas. It is interesting to note that all the buildings in this area were storage for all the goods that came into the port. Now, these buildings are nice restaurants, bars, museums and colonial homes.
It is interesting to note that at the base of Fuerte Invincible and Fuerte Don Diego was a large lagoon that was fed by the waters of Rio Ozama. The lagoon was known at Tanque / Tank. Some say it played an important part in the defensive belt for the Colonial City. After the Fuerte Ozama with its high walls lined with cannons was the narrow entrance to Rio Ozama and the tall cannon lined wall and firing platforms of Fort El Invincible with the lagoon at its base.
A good starting point is at the Escaleras Calle el Conde / Stairs of Calle el Conde. The beautiful stairs, cut between the old walls of Fuerte Invincible, lead down to the outer walls of the city along Ave. Francisco Alberto Caamaño Deño, also known as the Malecon or Avenida El Puerta. Looking up you can see just how strong these walls were and how they did protect the homes of the wealthy.
Continue walking along the wall and you will come to a wooden bridge path, this is the beginning of Fuerte San Diego. The path ends at the Puerta San Diego. This door is beautiful with its shield and stone path. The door enters to Plaza España and the Alcazar Colón. If you continue walking on the outside of the wall it will lead to The Bateria del Almirante and the other entrance from the port Puerto Atarazana / Door of the Shipyards. The wall continues past the small police station to Fuerte Carina and Fuerte Angulo and around to Fuerte Santa Barbara.
Memorial Column to the Shipwreck of the Sloop Aurora / Columna Conmemorativa Naufragio Balandra Aurora
On the coral cliffs of Paseo Padre Billini on the coast of Santo Domingo stands a single column pillar. This white pillar is topped with an urn. The Memorial Column to the Shipwreck of the Sloop Aurora. It honors those who lost their lives because of the shipwreck of the sloop Aurora.
On Sunday, September 27, 1908 he sloop Aurora was trying to enter the port to escape a torrential storm that was raging in the Caribbean. People watched as the ship crashed and sank off the beach Placer de los Estudios (Playa Placer is located at the mouth of Rio Ozama). The crew clung desperately to a tree as the storm raged on. A few Dominican men tried to rescue these crew members, but all lives were lost.
The monument dedicated to the memory of the Balandra Arora was built in 1910 to commemorate the tragic loss of lives. There was once a plaque at the bottom of the monument inspired by Federico Henriquez and Carvajal. The plaque read “Al ver la nave zozobrar perdida, un noble razgo les costó la vida” / “When seeing the ship capsize lost, a noble reason cost them the life”. The plaque also included the names of those who lost their lives on Sunday, September 27, 1908. The heroic Dominicans are Casimiro Almonte, José Cuevas, Miguel Veloz, José Maíz and Eusebio Lugo. The crew members of the Balandra Arora who lost their lives are Miguel Pérez, Juan Ramón Mandia and Rican Hilario Martínez.
Did you know? – A sloop / balandra is a sailing boat with a single mast. It typically has one headsail in front of the mast, and one mainsail aft of (behind) the mast.
Paseo Presidente Padre Billini, better known as the Malecon of Santo Domingo or Avenida George Washington, and Calle Sanchez. The memorial sits on the coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea, Ciudad Colonial, Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana.
All You Want To Know About The Oldest City In The Americas
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