Parque Colón, named after the Admiral Cristobal Colón, is one of the most popular parks in the Colonial Zone. The plaza is surrounded by historical buildings and restaurants. With its large trees and shaded benches, it is the perfect spot to sit, relax and watch people.
Columbus Park is a large bricked park or plaza about 298 x 200 feet / 90 x 60 meters in size. It is located on the side of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. The beautiful large trees with cozy park benches make it feel like a little oasis in a big city.
The park is a hangout for tourists and locals alike. You will see people snapping pictures, feeding the large flocks of pigeons, children playing with their parents looking on, lovers holding hands, people just sitting relaxing (maybe even taking a snooze) while enjoying the gentle breezes and the shade getting relief from the hot Dominican sun.
Because Parque Colón is a high traffic tourist area, there will be many vendors trying to sell you many different types of items. Maybe a CD of typical Dominican music, a rosary or some other trinket. There is normally a Marchanta selling snacks. There are always tour guides looking for guidees at a price. Taxi drivers will ask if you need a taxi as you pass by their stands. Maybe a shoeshine boy (limpia bota) will ask if you need a shine or give you a little flower and then ask you to pay for it. A local street dog could follow you, they can spot a tourist from a distance.
It is said that the location of this plaza originally was an important place for the native peoples, the Tainos, to gather. But that all changed when the Europeans showed up and “discovered” Hispaniola.
Originally the square reached from Calle Real (now called Calle El Conde), Calle de la Universidad (now Calle Padre Billini), Calle del Arzobispo (now Arzobispo Portes) and Calle de Santa Clara (now Isabel la Católica).
In 1514 they decided to place the Cathedral in more than half of the park. This included the Plazoleta de Los Curas, the Plazoleta Padre Billini, and the houses that faced Calle Padre Billini. In 1521 Bishop Alejandro Geraldini started building the Cathedral.
They made the original Plaza of earth and there were no trees. There was a water fountain in the center with water that was supplied from the original aqueducts of the city. The first tree was planted in the Plaza during the Haitian invasion in 1822. It was a palm called de la Libertad. After the country was free of Haitian rule, the plaza was improved and more trees were added.
The square was known as Plaza Mayor, named by Nicolás de Ovando in 1506. This plaza was also named Plaza de Armas. When the first Cathedral was completed in 1523 the name was again changed to Plaza de la Catedral. They installed the statue of the Grand Admiral Cristobal Colón, a creation of the French sculptor Ernest Gilbert unveiled on February 27, 1887, the plaza was baptized with the name of Parque Colón.
The plaza which was originally a grassy plot was eventually paved and benches and lanterns were added making it into the park we know and love today.
*The first electric lights in the city of Santo Domingo were turned on in Parque Colón on February 27, 1896.
*At one time there were working fountains on both sides of the park which have been filled in.
The park is located directly in front of the Catedral Santa Maria (the oldest cathedral in all Las Americas). On the other side of the park is Calle El Conde and streets Isabel la Católica and Arzobispo Meriño in the center of the old part of the Colonial City.
Parque Independencia is a must-visit when you are exploring the oldest city in the Americas, especially if you are interested in the history of the Dominican people and their fight for freedom. The park houses the Altar de la Patria. Home of the mausoleum for the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic, Francisco del Rosario Sánchez, Juan Pablo Duarte and Ramón Matías Mella.
Bastión de San Genaro(¹), the original name of this part of the wall, was built in 1543. It is typical of the 17th century built Italian style. Its purpose was to defend the city from a sneak attack by land along with its connecting Fuerte la Concepcion. The wall that this gate is built into ran all the way down to the sea and included the Puerta de la Misericordia. You can also see what remains of the protection moat that surrounded the walled city of Santo Domingo.
(¹)Bastion or bulwark – A projecting part of a fortification built at an angle to the line of a wall, so as to allow defensive fire in several directions. If you look at the map of Santo Domingo you can see the triangle-shaped bastion.
Independence Park / Parque Independencia was converted to a park in 1912 when Architect Antonin Nechodoma did a redesign. This design later made way for the Altar de la Patria. The road that ran through the center of the park was closed and benches added.
Puerta del Conde
The gate Puerta del Conde is named after El Conde de Peñalve / Count of Peñalva, Bernardo de Meneses y Bracamonte. He was the Captain General of the walled city of Santo Domingo. He saved the city, along with his men, from the British invaders during the Siege of Santo Domingo. Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables led this battle. The Count ordered the wall to be modified and this work was completed in 1655.
On February 27, 1844 Puerta del Conde became the national symbol of Dominican patriotism when Francisco del Rosario Sanchez raised the first Dominican flag. It was here that the heroes of the country overtook the Haitian government and retook the city for their own thus reclaiming their Independence.
Above this gate at the beginning of the Conde Street reads the Latin inscription “ìDulce et Decori est pro patria moriî” translated “It is indeed sweet and honorable to die for the fatherland.”
On February 27, 1933 Rafael Leonidas Trujillo ordered the name of the gate be changed. He changed the official name to the Door of February 27 / Puerta de 27 de Febrero. The Dominican people still call this symbol or patriotism Puerta el Conde. This gate symbolizes the ideals of freedom of the Dominican Republic.
In 1943 Trujillo ordered the remains of the three founding fathers of the Dominican Republic to be moved from the Chapel of the Immortals / Capilla de los Immortales in the Catedral of Santo Domingo. Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco del Rosario Sanchez and Ramon Matias Mella had a new resting place.
Today the walls surrounding Independence Park serve as a place for temporary exhibitions placed by the Ministry of Culture. There are always interesting exhibits that display a variety of literary, artistic and historical events.
Entering The Gate
The guarded gate Door of the Count / Puerta del Conde or Door of February 27 / Puerta de 27 de Febrero is the entrance to the old walled city of Santo Domingo now known as Colonial Zone / Zona Colonial.
Above the gate is a catwalk that was used for guards to keep their watchful eyes open around the entrance to the city.
As you enter the gate, flanked by uniformed guards called the Guardia Nacional, you will really be leaving the original walled city of Santo Domingo. You are now outside the original protection that existed in the colonial days.
This gate to Fort San Genaro was the main way in and out of the city of Santo Domingo. The walls of defense that surrounded the city were very important for protection, especially these land access gates. They protected the city of Santo Domingo from any attacks coming by land including roving bands of marauders and those sneaky pirates.
As with many of these important military installations they used moats for protection. Here you can see a triangular shaped moat / foso running towards what is now San Carlos. These fosos were used to protect the west along with several guard booths / garitas. Now, there are stairs where you can descend into the moat and shaded tunnels that were once filled with water that are below the park’s walkways.
Plaza at Parque Independencia
After walking through the Puerta del Conde / Gate of the Count you will see the Alley of Heroes. The interior Plaza at Parque Independencia was remodeled and opened to the public on February 27, 2017 on Independence Day.
The Alley of Heros has the busts of 34 national heroes lining either side of the plaza. The busts are made of reinforced fiberglass with a bronze patina. They are 90 centimeters high sitting atop a pyramid shaped base that is covered in coral stone.
These busts include the 7 women and 27 men who helped to make Dominican Republic’s independence and restoration a reality. The busts include The Trinitarians: Juan Isidro Pérez, Pedro Alejandrino Pina, Félix María Ruiz, José María Serra de Castro, Juan Nepomuceno Ravelo, Benito González, Jacinto de la Concha and Felipe Alfau. The Independentistas: General Antonio Duvergé, Vicente Celestino Duarte, General José Joaquín Puello, Admiral Juan Alejandro Acosta, María Trinidad Sánchez, Chepita Pérez de la Paz, María Baltasara de los Reyes, Manuela Díez, Rosa Duarte, Juana Saltitopa, Concepción Bona and Francisco Antonio Salcedo. The Restauradores: Generals Gregorio Luperón and Gaspar Polanco, Pepillo Salcedo, Pedro Antonio Pimentel, Santiago Rodríguez, José María Cabral, Benito Monción, José Cabrera and Timoteo Ogando. There are also the busts of José Contreras, Manuel Rodríguez Objío, Benigno Filomeno de Rojas, Ulises Francisco Espaillat and Pedro Francisco Bonó.
Also included in the Plaza are 2 pyramid-shaped pillars. These pillars describe the plaza and the history of the country’s independence and restoration. A plaque honors the heroism of General Luperon during the war of restoration in 1865.
Pedro Alejandrino Piña
Closest to the wall is a bust of Pedro Alejandrino Piña. He was a writer and one of the nine members who formed The Trinitarian / La Trinitaria for the patriotism who fought for the freedom of the Dominican people. When the group began public protests against Haitian rule in 1843, he was exiled to Curacao with Duarte and Pérez. He returned with Duarte in 1844 when Independence was achieved, but both were again sent to exile in Venezuela the following year when Santana took power. He returned to the DR again to fight the French attempted takeover, the restoration war against the Spanish and the attempted annexation by the USA. He was an influential politician until his death.
Dona Manuela Díez de Duarte
There is also a statue of a beautiful woman looking so calm and gentle and a little forlorn. Holding this distinguished position is Dona Manuela Díez de Duarte, the mother of the Founding Father Juan Pablo Duarte.
Manuela was born in Santa Cruz del Seybo June 27, 1786. She married Juan Jose Duarte in 1800 probably in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. They had eight children: Vicente Celestino, Juan Pablo, Filomena, Rosa, María Francisca, Manuel, Ana María y Sandalia. She occupies a distinguished position in the select group of Women of the Independence. Manuela offered her home to be used for secret meetings of the Trinitaria. She even sold some of her property to purchase weapons for the fight for independence. She died in Caracas, Venezuela on December 31, 1858.
If you walk straight ahead you will see the Altar of the Patriots with its glowing shield atop the tall entrance. It is surrounded by water making it a small island at the back of the park. There are 4 walkway bridges leading to the centrally located marble monument.
Be sure to pay attention as to not trip over the raised bronze sculpture in the center of the walkway. This is a 32 point star compass. It is told that from this compass is measured all points of the country. Here marks kilometer 0 / kilómetro cero.
Altar de la Patria
Altar of the Nation / Altar de la Patria also known as Tumba de los Padres de la Patria / Tomb of the Patriarchs of the Country or more simply the National Mausoleum.
In 1943 Trujillo ordered the remains of the three founding fathers of the Dominican Republic be moved from the Chapel of the Immortals / Capilla de los Immortales in the Catedral of Santo Domingo. Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Ramon Matias Mella had a new resting place.
The existing Altar de la Patria was designed by architect Cristian Martinez Villanueva and built in 1976 when the park was restored. The new monument made of white marble looms in the center of the park with the bright shining National Shield / Escudo Nacional above its door. This beautiful building is a fitting memorial for the heroes and Founding Fathers of the Dominican Republic.
This unique building is surrounded by water making it a small island at the back of the park. There are 4 walkway bridges leading to the centrally located marble monument.
Within this marble structure Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco del Rosario Sanchez, and Ramon Matias Mella bodies are interred. A solid marble slab covers each of the 3 founding fathers’ tombs. The large mesmerizing statues of these patriots, carved by Italian sculptor Nicholas Arrighini, stand proud at the head of their tombs.
In the center of the marble shrine burns the eternal flame that is kept lit in memory of the patriots. There are usually flowers and wreaths lovingly placed around the statues to honor the national heroes. The mausoleum is open from 8:30 to 6 daily.
Plaza Patriótica a los Caídos
Outside of the park on the left side is a small fenced off area called Plaza Patriótica a los Caídos de la Revolución de Abril de 1965. Un homenaje del pueblo dominicano a los Héroes y Mártires de la guerra patria De 1965 / Fallen Patriot Square of the Revolution April 1965. A tribute to the Dominican people and the heroes and martyrs of the Patriotic War of 1965.
Note – You do not need a guide to take you through the park so do not be fooled. If you want a guide they are available at the park. Do make sure you agree on a price beforehand.
Parque Independencia, Palo Hincado and Calle el Conde, Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo. The roads surrounding the park are Avenida Independencia, Ave. Bolívar, Palo Hincado, Arzobispo Nouel, Mariano Cesteros. Calle el Conde lines up a direct path to the front gate.
The Plaza María de Toledo is a nice tranquil spot to sit and relax. The Plaza honors the first American Viceroy / Virreina, Doña María de Toledo. A cultural woman who helped make life for the new colony of Santo Domingo a little more proper.
The brick tiled plaza sits between Calle Las Damas and Isabel la Católica. Benches line the courtyard, making it an ideal place for sitting and relaxing. The newly repaired fountain cascades water into a small reflecting pool. The sculpture of María de Toledo sits in the square in front of the fountain. Originally the statue was located on the side lawn of the Alcazar de Colón in Plaza Espana. They moved the statue to Plaza Maria de Toledo when the plaza was renovated in 2017.
There were 2 homes on the original piece of land. All that remains are the 3 stone arches at the entrance along Las Damas and the 2 arches above the pool. It was originally the residence of the group la Compañía de Jesús until they were expelled from the country.
Every Sunday there is a small Antique Market held in the plaza. Vendors sell their wares including antiques, Taino artifacts, brass pieces, jewelry and other interesting trinkets.
Walking up (north) Isabel la Católica from the eastern side of the Conde about 1 block. It is the first open space on the right across from Calle Gregorio Luperon. Walking up Calle las Damas from the Conde, it is the first plaza on the left in front of Governor Nicolás Ovando’s Residence, now a hotel. It is next to the Panteón Nacional.
María de Toledo (born 1490 in Spain – Died May 11, 1549 (aged 58–59) in Santo Domingo
María de Toledo was the wife of the son of Christopher Columbus / Cristóbal Colón, Diego de Colón, II Admiral and II Viceroy of the Indies / II Almirante y II Virrey de Indias. She was the granddaughter of García Álvarez de Toledo, 1st Duke of Alba and the niece of King Ferdinand of Spain.
María was the first person of noble race to arrive on the Spanish island in 1509. She brought class to the colony. Clothes and other fancy items were forbidden in the colony until she arrived. She got special permission from the crown for herself and others to use and wear these items, becoming the central person of the aristocratic society. She also held the title of Viceroy / Virreina and was more powerful and influential than her husband Díego Colon.
María de Toledo was a strong defender of the original inhabitants of the island, the Taino Indians, against the mistreatment of the Spanish. She also fought for the rights of her children after the death of her husband. She was one of the most important female figures in the original colony of 16th century Hispaniola.
The unmarked statue of María de Toldeo used to be on the grassy slope on the side of the Alcázar de Colón. The Columbus Palace was built to be the home of Maria de Toledo and her husband Diego de Colón. She loved being a hostess, receiving guests and entertaining in her royal home.
NOTE – I have researched and found varying histories. Some report that María had 7 children and some say 8 children. I cannot find the cause of death or where she was buried when she died in Santo Domingo. If I find this information, I will add it.