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 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. From The Stairs of Las Damas / Escaleras de las Damas to Casa Reales at the Plaza Reloj de Sol / Sun Dial there are many Colonial Monuments to see. 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.
Calle las Damas runs North and South from Plaza Reloj de Sol at Casa Reales to the Malecon (Av. George Washington) ending with the long and hidden Stairs of Las Damas/ Escaleras de las Damas (The stairs, built in the 1930’s, connect the Malecon to Calle las Damas at Plaza / Park Pellerano Castro.
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.
Governor Frey Nicolas de Ovando, the founder of the city of Santo Domingo, is the person who personally chose this spot for this military installation. 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 1960s. It housed many of the Dominican Republics’ political prisoners as well. In the 1970s 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 on 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.
Convento y Iglesia de Santa Clara/ Convent and Church of Santa Clara
The nuns of Santa Clara arrived in the colony in 1552. The land where the Church and convent are built was donated by Alvaro de Castro, the public prosecutor of the Inquisition. Don Rodrigo Pimentel ordered that the convent was to be built in the 16th century, 1550 to 1559. Rodrigo de Bastidas, Diego Colón, Rodrigo de Pimentel y el Arzobispo Alonso de Fuenmayor all put in their ideas for the design.
The first convent of the new world
, was occupied in 1590. When the French occupied the city in 1796 the nuns left for Cuba and returned in 1820. The church, convent and mausoleum of Christopher Columbus/ Cristóbal Colon and his decedents were originally dedicated to Santa Ana. Later it was changed and named after Santa Clara and the nuns/ monjas Clarisas. In 1873, the monastery in ruins, was given to the Sisters of Charity of Cardinal Sancha/ las hermanas de la Caridad del Cardenal Sancha, who restored it and now occupy a college where they operate.
The monastery was created for girls in the city Ozama (Urbe del Ozama) to study and be educated. The founders were Franciscan who wore the brown sackcloth robe tied with a cord and a brown cape. These Franciscan monks are still seen walking through the Colonial city. The sisters now live behind the church on Calle las Damas. The iglesia houses a school where some days you can hear the children gathering in the church singing hymns with the sound coming out into the street like a soft wave.
The building is very plain consisting of a smooth, non-descript outer wall and a very simple entryway. The interior is decorated in Gothic style.
From east Calle el Conde turn south (towards the sea) on Isabel la Católica. Go about 2 blocks to Padre Billini and it is on that corner to Calle las Damas, Zona Colonial.
All You Want To Know About The Oldest City In The Americas