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Montecino The Man And Monument

Fray Antón de Montesino (1475 – 1540), the Defender of Los Indios.

Fray Antón de Montesino is best known for his historic defense of the Taino Indians and other Indigenous persons of the islands of the Carribean and around the world. He courageously spoke against the abuses done to the native peoples of the island in a famous sermon made in 1511. He was one of the first persons to speak out for defending human rights starting the fight around the world.

Fray Antón de Montesino Monument
Fray Antón de Montesino Monument

Fray Antón de Montesino | Montecinos Sermon | The Plaza and Monument Frey Antón de Montecinos | Playa Placer | Location

Fray Antón de Montesino

(some references say Montecinos and also Antonio Montesino.)

In the years of 1494 and 1495 Cristóbal Columbus carried out military campaigns to force the Taínos (the original native inhabitants of the island) to be put under the rule of the Catholic Kings and to serve the Spaniards. The Taínos caught at this time were forced to work in the gold mines and wherever else their labors were needed. During the time of Columbus they were treated as less than human as if they were property instead of human beings. Even though Corona had declared in 1501 that the Taínos were free and that should not be mistreated, nobody listened or obeyed him. The Indians were considered below animals and without souls.

The Monument of Fray Antón de Montesino
The Monument of Fray Antón de Montesino

The Spanish continued to use and abuse the original inhabitants of the island. in 1503 Nicholas de Ovando, the abusive governor of the island, told the queen that if he did not use the Indians to work for them in the mines the island would become depopulated and all the business therein would be lost. Since the Kings were more interested in obtaining gold to fund the expenses in Europe, the abuse of the Indians was made legal by Corona. He continued to permit the Indians to be slaves for the Spaniards and to work the mines and the farms. In turn for this legalization, the Spaniards were ordered to teach the Tainos about the Catholic ways. The permission was given the 20 of December of 1503. Thus began the “Sistema de las Encomiendas en la Española (the system of Economics of Spain). This was the start of the true abuse of the Indians.

The Natives who managed to live after serving as slaves in the mines or fields under forced labor were desperate and lost hope. Many committed mass suicides. Many died from disease and starvation. In 1508 when a census of Indians was taken. It found that there were only 60,000 of the original 400,000 left of the natives that were counted when Columbus came onto the island for the first time only sixteen years before. The loss of the labor force hurt the Spanish and their gold mining. It was decided to bring in the Indians of the Lucayas Islands to restock their supply of laborers. In time, because of the Spaniard’s cruel treatment of the indigenous peoples and King Fernando’s insatiable thirst for gold, these indigenous peoples also died off.

Fray Antón de Montesino spoke out for the rights of the natives
Fray Antón de Montesino spoke out for the rights of the natives

Friars Arrival

The Friars arrival to the settlement started a change. Montecinos who was ordained in 1509, joined the first group of Dominican missionaries in 1510 who were heading to the “New World”. This was the state Fray Antón de Montesino found upon his and the Dominican order or Friars arrival on the island La Española. The Friars saw first hand the horrific treatment, the life of shortage and the forced labor of the Indians. Immediately the friars started to fight in favor of these victims to give the indigenous people rights equal to those of the Spaniards.

A quote from Montesino speach displayed inside the monument
A quote from Montesino speach displayed inside the monument

Montecinos Sermon

“I am the voice of Christ who cries out in the desert of this island. This voice says all are in mortal sin and live and die in it, for the cruelty and tyranny you use on these innocent people. Say what right and justice do you keep in such cruel and horrible servitude these Indians?”

These words were part of the sermon given by Fray Antón de Montesinos on the first Sunday of Advent, the 30 of November of 1511, in the presence of Sir Diego Columbus in the Iglesia de los Padres Dominicos. The sermon was based on the Gospel of Saint Matthew 3:3. All the top officials and authority figures were present. In a full speech of admonition with all sins described in detail, the titled sermon “Ego Vox Clamantis in deserto”, was signed by all the friars of the order. They demanded of the Spaniards to give rights and justice to the Taínos, condemning the oppression against them. The scandal was enormous. All were astonished by the boldness of Fray Antón de Montesinos. (The Sermón de Antonio de Montesinos.)

Fray Pedro de Córdoba, head of the order, promised that Montesinos would make a full retraction in his next sermon. Of course, that did not happen. On the second Sunday from Advent, the 7th of December, Montesinos continued his attack on these atrocities in even harsher words.

Montesino spoke out for human rights
Montesino spoke out for human rights

Return To Spain

In 1512 Montecino returned to Spain and was sent to court. After great difficulties, Montesinos managed to see the King and was able to explain the terrible situation. The King held a town meeting, composed by theologians and jurists, to discuss and make a judgment on the case.

Montesinos fought and won.

The Government dictated the results in the Laws of Towns, regulating the work of the Indians yet still forcing them to work as before. The Spaniards and Montesinos continued to fight because these laws did nothing to resolve the situation. Finally, the Government of Cisneros Cardinal created “El Gobierno de los Gerónimos” to mediate between both parties and to create laws in favor of the natives. The laws were created but never applied. The plans of el Gobierno de los Gerónimos / Government of the Jerónimos failed.

Montesino monument
Montesino monument

Montesino died in Venezuela on June 27, 1540. He never saw his dream of equality come to pass. He became the author of the first official reclamation of freedom and equality of the people of America. The exact circumstances of the death of Fray Antón Montesino, the Defender of Los Indios, is unknown.

A Reenactment video of the Sermón de Montesinos en La Española video.


A video of the sermon the Fray gave in Santo Domingo December 21, 1511/ Sermón de Fray Antonio Montesinos predicado en la Isla La Española el 21 de diciembre de 1511.

View of the Montecino Monument in the distance
View of the Montecino Monument in the distance

Interesting bits of information

*The speech of Montecino influenced Bartolomé de Las Casas to get rid of his Native slaves and start fighting for their rights.
*There is a Fray Antón de Montecinos Award from the Alumni Association of the University of Santo Domingo in New York City. This award is given annually to a Dominican professional who lives in the United States. This person must substantially enhance the reputation of the Dominican Republic through their work. The award includes a $5,000 cash prize and a replica of a statue of Montesinos.
*The Friar and martyr returned to Hispaniola and continued to work there and in Puerto Rico. In 1521 he founded, along with other Dominicans, a convent in the town of San Juan Bautista de la Isleta, the basis of the first university in Puerto Rico founded in 1532.
*In 1528, Montesinos went to Venezuela with a mission along with other Dominicans

Monument dedicated to Frey Anton de Montecinos
Monument dedicated to Frey Anton de Montecinos

The Plaza and Monument Frey Antón de Montecinos

The stone and bronze statue found on the Malecon of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The monument is near the harbor on the far end of the Colonial Zone. It can be seen looming in the horizon at the entrance to the Ozama River along the Caribbean Sea.

The statue was designed by Mexican sculptor Antonio Castellanos. It is almost 15 feet (4.57 meters) tall. The statue was gifted to the Dominican people by the Mexican government when Lopez Portillo was president of Mexico. The monument to Frey Antón de Montecinos was originally inaugurated in 1982.

The newly renovated Plaza Fray Anton de Montesinos (6-2019)
The newly renovated Plaza Fray Anton de Montesinos (6-2019)

The sculpture of Montecinos rests on the upper deck of the building built of limestone and concrete. It was designed by architect Pedro Ramírez Vásquez. The monument, including the height or the statue, measures 30 meters or almost 100 feet tall.

The original plan was for the structure to house a cultural center and this has finally been accomplished. The newly renovated Plaza Fray Anton de Montesinos was inaugurated June 26, 2019) is open to the public.

The new Plaza Fray Antonio de Montesino
The new Plaza Fray Antonio de Montesino (6-2019)

The Plaza has 5 different meeting rooms with air conditioning. The viewing space at the top of the monument is called Terraza de los Taínos where visitors can see the spectacular view of the surrounding area. The entrances have access ramps for people with disabilities. The marble stairs and floors have all been repaired and polished. There is lighting all surrounding the building.

The Marines guard the monument. The view from the top of the structure shows the entrance to Rio Ozama and the Caribbean Sea. You can also see much of the Colonial City.

The old Stairs inside the Monument dedicated to Frey Anton de Montecinos before the renovation
The old Stairs inside the Monument dedicated to Frey Anton de Montecinos before the renovation
Playa Placer de los Estudios. The locals call it Playa Placer or Playita Montecinos.
Playa Placer de los Estudios. The locals call it Playa Placer or Playita Montecinos.

Playa Placer de los Estudios

There is a small beach beside the monument of Montecinos. The original name of this beach is Playa Placer de los Estudios. The locals call it Playa Placer or Playita Montecinos.

Part of Playa Placer is very shaded with large palms and there are also many noni trees. You can usually see baseball players practicing their running in the sand or people exercising or walking their dogs.

The beach area runs from the port of Santo Domingo to the coral cliffs that line the Malecon. There is a lot of runoff from the city of garbage and sewage. When there is any storm or hard rain it washes the trash down from the Rio Ozama and it accumulates here. It is so sad to see. It is not advisable to swim on this beach.

Playa Placer de los Estudios. The locals call it Playa Placer or Playita Montecinos.
Playa Placer de los Estudios. The locals call it Playa Placer or Playita Montecinos.

Location

View from Fuerte San Jose  Monument dedicated to Frey Anton de Montecinos
View from Fuerte San Jose Monument dedicated to Frey Anton de Montecinos

The monument honoring Montecino is located on Paseo President Billini where it changes to Avenida George Washington, better known as The Malecon, next to the Port of Santo Domingo on the Caribbean Sea at the mouth of Rio Ozama. Sometimes crossing the Malecon can be dangerous. Facing Montecion walk left along the Malecon and there is a pedestrian bridge at the port that crosses this busy road.

Frey Bartolomé de Las Casas

Frey Father Bartolomé de Las Casas

Father – Frey Bartolomé de Las Casas was so many things to so many people. He was part of the original colonization of Santo Domingo. He fought for human rights in defense of the Indigenous peoples of Hispaniola.

Painting of Frey Bartolomé de Las Casas
Painting of Frey Bartolomé de Las Casas

Books By Las Casas

Frey Bartolomé de Las Casas was a Spanish colonist, a priest, a friar, the founder of a Utopian community and first Bishop of Chiapas. He was a scholar, historian and 16th century human rights advocate. Las Casas has been called the Father of anti-imperialism and anti-racism. Considered by some to be a saint and by others to be a fanatic and close to insanity.

Las Casas to this day is still very much an icon. He is the symbol of justice and the fight for human rights in Latin America. He led the way for many peoples fight for freedom and human rights. So, no matter what people thought of this Dominican monk, he made a great influence in the life and culture of the world.

It is interesting to note his birth and death years. 1484*-1566*. There are many different dates for the time of Las Casas birth and death. Originally it was said he was born 1474 but after some scholars did some studying they discovered he was really born much later in 1484. So now history has change and his official birth date is November 16, 1484. Las Casas died, some reports say on July 17th and others say the 18th, 1566 when he was either 81 or 82 years of age.

The statue honoring Las Casas located in the Plaza Bartolomé de Las Casas in the Ciudad Colonial
The statue honoring Las Casas located in the Plaza Bartolomé de Las Casas in the Ciudad Colonial

Las Casas was born in Spain and studied in the Cathedral school of Sevillana. He came to Hispaniola with the expedition of Nicholas de Ovando in 1502. He participated in some campaigns of conquest on the island and left for Rome in 1507. When he returned was granted an allotment of Indians by Diego Columbus.

Padre las Casas was the first to hold mass for the Indians in the Americas. A sermon of Fray Pedro of Cordova in favor of the Indians helped to unite the fight in the defense of the exploded Taino Indians. He intervened with the head of the Dominican priests to look for the solution to the problem of the indigenous peoples. As of that moment, the young priest became the lawyer of the mistreated Native race. With that aim he traveled to Spain, where he met with King Fernando the Catholic, at the end of 1515. He gained nothing with that interview.

After the Death of King Fernando, Cardinal Cisneros replaced him in the Court. Finally, with Cardinal Cisneros at the head, Bartolomé was able to form a group, administered by Spaniards and helped by monks, to aid the indigenous peoples of the island. Still, the people in charge did not want to give freedom to the Indians.

Las Casas returned to Spain, where meeting with the new Monarch Carlos V, proposed new plans to improve the life of the Indians. One of the proposals of the Father the Houses was the one to replace the indigenous population with black Africans. This proposal was accepted but it did not improve the situation of the Indian. The Indians of Hispaniola disappeared quickly, in spite of the effort of Las Casas to protect them.

When there were very few indigenous Indians left on the island Las Casas went to the newly conquered territories and continued with his defense of the natives. He was against the violent conquest of the territories and always protested against the great slaughtering carried on by the conquerors.

It is also interesting to note that Las Casas, while fighting for the rights of the Natives did not fight for the rights of the African Slaves. He did not want Indian slavery but he still used African slaves. Bartolomé de las Casas eventually came to the realization that all forms of slavery were wrong and inhumane. In The History of the Indies published in 1527 Las Casas is quoted saying “I soon repented and judged myself guilty of ignorance. I came to realize that black slavery was as unjust as Indian slavery…
and I was not sure that my ignorance and good faith would secure me in the eyes of God.”

Las Casas fought in several locations of South and Central America trying to prevent the extermination of the Indians. While in Peru he preached against the violence of Pizarro in the conquest of the Incan Empire. For this reason he was transferred and imprisoned in Santo Domingo in 1533.

Bartolomé continued his fight in 1535 when he was released from prison and continued on to Central America. In Guatemala he made an attempt of pacific conquest.

An interesting quote by Las Casas:
“The reason why the Christians have killed and destroyed such an infinite number of souls is that they have been moved by their wish for gold and their desire to enrich themselves in a very short time”

Las Casas Books

Las Casas fought for the rights of the Indians until his death in July 1566. He wrote several important works about the conquest and Spanish colonization in Las Americas. The books “Apologética” and the “Historia de Las Indias” (History of the Indians”) are the most recognized. In his will he signed over all his writings to the College of San Gregorio.

Some writings of Las Casas
*Apologetic History of the Indies
*History of the Indies
*Spanish Cruelties
*A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies
*Comprobatory Treatise on the Imperial Sovereignty and Universal Jurisdiction which the Kings of Castile Have over these Indies

A list of books by and about Frey Bartolome de las Casas on Amazon

Plaza Bartolomé de Las Casas in the Ciudad Colonial
Plaza Bartolomé de Las Casas in the Ciudad Colonial

For much more on Las Casas please go to http://www.lascasas.org

Plaza Frey Bartolomé de Las Casas

There is a small and beautiful plaza in the Colonial Zone honoring Las Casas. It is located on Calle Padre Billini between Hostos and Arz. Meriño.

Fortaleza Ozama

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.

Sun Rise Over Fortaleza Ozama
Sun Rise Over Fortaleza Ozama

Fortelaza Ozama | Fortaleza Ozama – Inside The Walls of Fortaleza Ozama | (1)La Puerta de Charles III/ The Gate of the Fortress | (2)The Statue of Oviedo | (3)The Tower of Homage/ Torre del Homenaje | (4)The Arsenal/ Armory Polvorín de Santa Bárbara | (5 & 6)The Low and High Shooting Platforms | (7)The remains of the First Fort/ Primera Obra | (8)Old Army Barracks | (9)The Fort of Santiago/ Fuerte de Santiago | (10)Casa de Bastidas | (11)Muralla de Felix Benito | Fortaleza Ozama in 1910 | Picture Collection over 300 pictures of the Fortaleza Ozama |

Map Inside Fortaleza Ozama Numbered 1

Map Inside Fortaleza Ozama Numbered 1

Governor Ovando

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.

Etntrance To The Fortaleza Ozama
Etntrance To The Fortaleza Ozama

The Walls

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.

The Back Gate Wall of Fortaleza Ozama
The Back Gate Wall of Fortaleza Ozama

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.

In the outside wall of Fortaleza Ozama hear the main entrance is a Cannonball embedded in the wall.
In the outside wall of Fortaleza Ozama hear the main entrance is a Cannonball embedded in the wall.

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.

Sherd of history on the dirt  inside Fortaleza Ozama.
Sherd of history on the dirt inside Fortaleza Ozama.
Sherds from old pottery found on the grounds of the Fortaleza Ozama
Sherds from old pottery found on the grounds of the Fortaleza Ozama

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)

The Entrance To Fortaleza Ozama on Calle Las Damas
The Entrance To Fortaleza Ozama on Calle Las Damas

Location

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.
Telephone: 806-686-0222

See the picture slideshow of the Fortaleza Ozama. Picture Collection over 300 pictures of the Fortaleza Ozama

Continue to the 2nd page – Fortaleza Ozama – Inside The Walls of Fortaleza Ozama