Calle Las Damas/ Street of the Ladies is the oldest street in the Americas. It is a beautiful street lined with historical buildings from the original settlement of Santo Domingo.
Calle Las Damas
was originally named Calle de la Fortaleza/ The street of Strength or Fortress when it was created in 1502 during the reign of Nicolás de Ovando. The street has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The arrival of Admiral and Viceroy Diego Columbus and his wife doña María de Toledo brought a little class to this new city. María de Toledo was the great niece of the King of Spain, King Ferdinand. Many of the high society of Spain and the ladies “of culture” took up residence on Calle de la Fortaleza. The name was changed later to Calle las Damas, named for the Ladies-in-Waiting that strolled up and down its north to south running length.
A Street of Many Names
During its history the street had many names, most of the names came about because of a name of a building built along its path. In 1659 the name was changed to Calle Colón in honor of Cristóbal Colón. The other names for this street were Calle del Gobierno, Calle del Palacio, Calle de la Capitanía General and Calle del Convento de Los Jesuitas. Finally, the the street returned to its original historical name, Calle las Damas. The name remains to this day.
Visit Calle Las Damas
Strolling down Calle las Damas makes for a nice walk. Not much traffic passes on the stone path. You will be surrounded by beautifully restored buildings on both sides of the street. While walking you can almost feel like you are among the privileged people from times past that used to take their afternoon stroll along this historical street of the colony. It is a must visit here in the Colonial City.
Some of the monuments you can see and / or visit along this street include The Fortaleza Ozama, Panteón Nacional and make sure to stop and take a rest in the beautiful Plaza María De Toledo or Plaza Pellerano Castro, lovingly called Parque Rosado.
Calle las Damas runs North and South from Plaza España to the Malecon ending with the long and hidden Stairs of Las Damas/ Escaleras de las Damas (The stairs connect the Malecon to Calle las Damas at Plaza/ Park Pellerano Castro.
La Puerta de Charles III / The Gate of Charles III and El Portal de la Fortaleza/ The Gate of the Fortress – 1787
The original entrance to the Fortaleza Ozama dates from 1557-1564. The doors, The Gate of Charles III, that are still here now came almost 2 centuries later in 1787 and was named after King Charles III of Spain. Made from imported African ebony these were built during the reign of the king for which it is named. Built when there was much economic prosperity thus their elaborateness. They wanted it to be impressive as this was main entry to the fort, the first thing all visitors saw.
When entering this magnificent gate you can’t help but to be impressed. Just imagine how it might have felt to enter those gates into the grand arcade and garden. Beyond was the imposing tower and military buildings. Plus all the activity that might have been going on inside the fort during its hey day.
It is interesting to note holes in the doors. These holes are from bullets fired during the United States second invasion of Dominican Republic in 1965 U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent 42,000 marines and soldiers to protect their interests during the Revolución de Abril de 1965 when the country was in a state of civil war.
(2.) The Statue of Oviedo – 1977
The bronze Statue of Oviedo was created in 1977 by Spanish artist Joaquín Vaquero Turcios to honor Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés. Oviedo was governor of the fortress and also warden of the prison from 1533 to 1557.
Under the administration of Oviedo Santo Domingo reached its most brilliant period in the settlements history. Because of Oveidos geographical and administrative knowledge, every captain, military person, chief, discoverer and conqueror visited his office for advice. The legend states that when he was killed he held the keys to the gate. These keys had to be pried from his dead hand. Oveido was the first chronicler of the Indies and had an official title and salary. He wrote “Historia General y Natural de las Indias” while holding his paid post under His Majesty Charles V.
(3.) La Torre del Homenaje – 1503.
Torre del Homenaje / The Tower of Homage, resembling a medieval castle, was build inside the fort by Nicolás de Ovando in 1503. Ships were hailed from the top of this monstrous looking building. It has very little ornamentation and looks very serious and sobering. This tower, with its 2-meter thick walls, was the tallest building (18m) in the entire colony in the 16th century. It was the only building of its type in the New World.
The main gate faces north where is the remains of the coat of arms of Charles V that the Haitians tried to remove during their occupancy, but somehow this was saved.
The Tower has served many purposes in its long history. Don Diego Colon, Admiral Christopher Columbus’ son, and his wife, Doña Maria of Toledo (she was a relative of King Ferdinand the Catholic) stayed here while their new home, The Alcazar de Colon, was being built. The family lived on the second floor and the servants lived on the first.
Entering the towers main floor there is a small courtyard. On the far side is an opening where you can look down into a brick dungeon. This is where Juan Pablo Duarte was held during the Haitian occupation in 1836. It was also a prison where many political figures were jailed. Peña Gómez, Juan Bosch and Bienvenido Peynado all had the distinction of being incarcerated there. The north wing was the residence of the warden. The South wing held an arsenal and a cistern.
The window like openings in the tower are called ojos magicos/ magic eyes. Through these openings the person on the inside could watch the comings and goings on the outside without being seen. These openings provided a great advantage when it came to defending the area. It was easy to shoot out the small “eye” and very difficult trying to shoot into the thin line from the outside.
(4.) Armory Polvorín – 1787
Armory Polvorín de Santa Bárbara / The Arsenal is a rectangle shaped building and was constructed in 1787. The walls are 3 meters thick and there is only 1 door. Above the door is a small niche that holds the figure of Santa Bárbara, the patron saint of the gunners. The door is topped with a coat of arms picturing the Golden Fleece, the royal emblem of Charles 3. The Armory was surrounded with its own defenses of which one can see only its remains. Inside the armory is a large vault where gunpowder, weapons and ammunition were stored. The polvorín was intended to resemble a church to mislead the pirates.
(5.) Plataforma de Tiro Baja / The Low Shooting Platform – 1570 , built in 1570, has a series of embrasures for the cannons and other arms for battle. This platform was used to protect the port with low-level fire. The ramp let the cannons be moved to where they were needed most.
(6.) Plataforma de Tiro Alta / The High Shooting Platform – 1650 provided protection to the port from a high range of shooting. Note: All the cannons here now came from ships that were sunk during the colonial period.
(7.) La Primera Obra
The remains of la Primera Obra/ The First Fort Constructed, all that is left of the first or provisional fort can be seen. This was built in the beginning of the 16th century at the same time the tower was erected. All that can be seen now is the shape of 3 chambers (two small and 1 large) within the outline. The cannons laying inside the remains are not from the original fort. They were all removed over the years, probably sold for their iron.
(8.) The Old Army Barracks
When Spain sent a strong battalion around 1789 new and stronger quarters were built along Calle Las Damas. The old surrounding wall, dated around the 16th century, was integrated with the new parallel wall. The remains of the second wall can still be seen. These walls supported the roof of the barracks.
(9)El Fuerte de Santiago – 1567
Fuerte de Santiago / The Fort of Santiago was the first line of defense for the Fortress. It was built with stone and brick in 1567. All that remains are four arches and a small part of the original floor. Inside the fort you can block out the surroundings and really imagine what it might have been like in the late 1500’s.
The original sentry house/ Garita Ozama on the farthest point inside the fort is still there.
(10.) Casa de Bastidas
Casa de Bastidas/ House of Bastidas was built next to the Tower of Homage/ Torre del Homenaje in the early 16th (XVI) century around 1505. This 3 thousand square meter home has beautiful arches, a large patio and a long corridor along with Roman columns. Rodrigo de Bastidas, who was Honorary Mayor / Alcalde Ordinario of Santo Domingo in 1512 and the founder of many different South American cities. After his tragic death in Cuba his son Bishop Rodrigo de Bastidas and grandson lived in the house. It was occupied by the family heirs for more than a century.
The building was redone and updated in the eighteenth century (XVIII) when a small image of the virgin Santa Barbara was added. Now is is beautifully restored bringing back, for all to see, the marvelous times of colonial Santo Domingo. It is not the home of the Museo Infantil Trampolín.
More information about the Casa de Bastidas.
(11.) Muralla de Felix Benito
There are 2 different walls surrounding the Fort. The inside stone wall is the original. The coral wall bordered on the Rio Ozama and the Caribbean Sea (you can see the picture below dated 1910). The waters edge came very close to the old walls. This wall is not as thick as the interior walls. If there was an explosion the wall would fall outward to the river restricting any possible damage.
The higher, newer wall dates only to the time of Trujillo. This wall was constructed by the Puerto Rican Félix Benito. The purpose of the wall was to separate the fort from the newly constructed port facility. The road on the outside of this tall wall was made from river fill when they dredged the Rio Ozama to create the access road around the old city and to create new larger port facilities. Much of the old structures were lost in the creating of the port and the road Aveneda George Washington also known as the Malecon.
This is a picture of the Fortaleza Ozama as seen from Rio Ozama in 1910. This is before they made the road around the Colonial City, Avenida George Washington, and put up the stronger walls for safety for the road.
The Fortress of Santo Domingo also known as Fortaleza Ozama
The Fortaleza Ozama is considered to be one of the oldest forts of its kind on the entire American continent. It was built between 1502 and 1508. Built with coral brought from the sea that were skillfully cut into blocks that fit tightly together. This fort extended from the eastern to the western bank of the Rio Ozama / Ozama River (Ozama is the Taino word for navigable waters or wetlands). It is one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites inside the Colonial City.
The Governor Frey Nicolas de Ovando, the founder of the city of Santo Domingo, is the person who personally chose this spot for this military instillation. The fort was built by the labor of the African and Taino slaves, as were most of the buildings of this era.
The strategic location of this fort gives it a perfect view of any ship or person trying to gain entry into the city of Santo Domingo. From high on the steep bank the fort overlooks both the Ozama River and the Caribbean Sea. This is where all the departures of the great expeditions to other regions of the Americas began. The strategic location was a perfect way to defend the city against attack by marauder and pirate, common occurrences at this time. The perfect placement of the fort made it a very formidable stronghold. It was never seized by force, even though many attempts were made. Considered to be “The Axis of the Conquest” Fortaleza Ozama was built by the Spaniards after they finished exploring the entire island.
Master builder Gómez Garcia de Varela was responsible for the building of this fort in all its stages. First was the erection of the tower. Then came the shooting platforms and the main defensive fort. As time passed new facilities were added and old ones modified as needed.
The walls encompassing the fort are three meters thick with exception of the wall bordering the river. The river wall is only one meter thick. This was done so that if there was an explosion the wall would explode outward to the river. This restricted maximum possible damage.
The outer new wall, The Muralla de Felix Benito, was built when Port Santo Domingo and the sea road, the Malecon, was created. The dredge that was taken out of the port was used to make the land on which the highway now runs.
Visiting the Torre del Homenaje you will notice that it is very cool inside. This is because of the towers thick walls. This makes the climb to the top of the tower a pleasant experience even when done during the mid-day heat. The coral rock, which is what the buildings are made of, is a good moisture absorber. The cement holding it all together was made of gypsum, clay, lime and the blood of animals. This strong cement became stronger as time went on.
Fort Ozama was used as a prison up to the 1960’s. It housed many of the Dominican Republics political prisoners as well. In the 1970´s the fort was retired from military service. At this time the fort was restored and opened to the public.
Visiting Fortaleza Ozama
When visiting the fort be sure to take some time and walk the grounds to see the entire fort. Walk the perimeter of the wall that is lined with cannons. At the far corner of the back wall is an old look-out tower that has a Gothic feel. If the gate is open you can go down the old ramp to the lower shooting platform. If your visit coincides with mango season you might be able to pick a mango off one of the many trees along the back wall.
A few times I walked and took my time I found pieces of pottery and porcelain that are very old and I was told some pieces are from Portugal. Some pieces match the styles in the Museo of Casa Reales.
Tour guides hang out at the gate if you would like a guided tour. You can go in unguided but a guide can explain so much of the history it is worth the small price you will pay. It costs $60 pesos per person (RD$20 for students and children) to enter and about $300 for a guide to take you, more or less. (price as of 5/2013)
Located on Calle Las Damas and Calle Pellerano Alfau, Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo. Walking on Calle el Conde towards the river take a right onto Calle las Damas and it will be about 1 block down on the left.
All You Want To Know About The Oldest City In The Americas
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