The Fortress of Santo Domingo also known as Fortaleza Ozama (Ozama is the Taino word for navigable waters or wetlands). is considered to be one of the oldest of its kind on the entire American continent. It was built between 1502 and 1508 with coral brought from the sea, skillfully cut into blocks and fit tightly together. This fort extended from the eastern to the western bank of the Ozama River/ Rio Ozama.
The Governor Frey Nicolas de Ovando, the founder of the city of Santo Domingo, is the one who personally chose this spot for this military instillation. It was built by the labor of the African and Taino slaves as was most of the buildings of this era. Its strategic location gives it a perfect view or anyone gaining entry to the city. It overlooks both the Ozama River and the Caribbean Sea from high on its steep bank. This is where was witnessed all the departures of all the great expeditions to other regions of the Americas. It was built to defend the city against attack by marauder and pirate, which was very common happening at this time. The perfect placement of the fort made it such a formidable stronghold that it was never seized by force, even though many attempts were made. Considered to be "The Axis of the Conquest" it 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 except the one that borders the river. This wall is only one meter thick. This was done so that if there was an explosion it would explode outward to the river restricting the possible damage. The second wall built when the port was put in is to keep the water from the river out. The dredge that was taken out of the port was used to make the land on which the highway now runs.
It is very cool inside the building because of its thick walls. This makes the climb to the top of the tower a pleasant experience even when done during the mid-day heat. All was made of coral rock which is a good moisture absorber. The cement was made of gypsum, clay, lime and the blood of animals and became stronger as time went on.
This fort was used as a prison up to the 1960s. In the 1670´s the fort retired from its military service when it was restored and opened to the public. The local Colonial Zone police station is directly inside the gate where all the criminal element of the Colonial Zone are taken and held temporarily.
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)
When visiting the fort be sure to take some time and walk the grounds to see the entire fort. Walk the permitter of the wall. If you are there at the right time maybe you can pick a mango off the trees along the back wall. Climb the stairs to look out the old look-out tower window located in the far back corner of the wall. It gives a great view of the entrance to the Rio Ozama from the turquoise blue Caribbean sea.
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.
Numbered views of Fortaleza Ozama. Each description has the number of its placement in the pictures.
1) La Puerta de Charles III/ The Gate of Charles III and Portal de la Fortaleza/ The Gate of the Fortress. This is the entrance to the fortress. This, the original entrance, dates from 1557-1564. The doors, The Gate of Charles III, that are still here now came almost 2 centuries later in 1787 named after the King of Spain, Charles III of Spain. Made from imported African ebony these were built during the reign of the king for which it is named. It was 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 you enter this magnificent gate you can't help but to be impressed. Just imagine how it might have felt to enter and see the imposing tower and military buildings beyond. All the activity happening inside during its hey day. The great arcade and garden they first saw when entering the gate
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.
See the picture slideshow of the Fortaleza Ozama (opens in a new window).