Tag Archives: Taino

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

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.

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 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.

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 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)

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


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

Nicolás Ovando

Frey Nicolás Ovando


Frey Nicolás Ovando y Cáceres was born into a rich family in Spain.
In 1502 he become the third Governor and Captain-General of the Indies. There were too many complaints about then Governor Francisco de Bobadilla. Ovando replaced Bobadilla and served as the Governor of Hispaniola between 1502 and 1509.

When Ovando arrived to take over his appointed post as governor of Santo Domingo he brought with him over 30,000 colonists to populate the island.

Frey Nicolás Ovando y Cáceres

Ovando was a conquistador. In a very short time he exploited and enslaved the islands indigenous peoples. He exterminating entire towns (Slaughter of Jaragua and Higüey), conquering and enslaving the native people. He forced the natives to work in homes and to plant crops, including the introduction of sugar cane. He used them to mine for gold. They were used as slaves on the ships that returned to Spain.

Ovandos type of governing was the model of the great conquering of Spain in the new world. He commissioned expeditions of discovery and conquest throughout the Caribbean, all from his offices here in Hispaniola. He founded 17 villages and cities on the island. He instituted the first town halls.

Under Ovandos rule the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo became very rich. The wealth cost the lives of almost all of the original native inhabitants of the island.


One of first terrible acts Ovando committed when he became Governor was to order the arrest of Anacaona. Anacaona was a Taíno queen. Ovando had his army search for and find her. While searching for her the army massacred many of the indigenous peoples. Anacaona was executed by hanging. After her death many of the natives fled their island home.

Statue of Anacaona in Parque Colon

A statue of Anacona can be seen in Parque Colón climbing up the side of the Columbus statue.

Frey Nicolas de Ovando statue in Plaza España

Return To Spain

King Ferdinand V made the brutal Ovando return to Spain in 1509. He was ordered to return because of his brutal treatment of the native people. Diego Columbus was then appointed as Ovandos successor as governor.

Ovando returned to Spain a rich man. He was permitted to keep all the property and riches he acquired while exploiting the island and its native people.

Home of Ovando on Calle las Damas

Remembering Ovando

The very large and elaborate home of Ovando is located on Calle las Damas and is now elaborate Hostal Nicolás de Ovando.

There is a huge bronze statue in the center of Plaza España honoring the 3rd Governor of Santo Domingo. In the stone pedestal on which the statue stands are the inscriptions “Comendador Mayor de la Orden de Alcántara” / “Supreme commander of the Order of Alcantara” and “Fundador de la Nueva Ciudad de Santo Domingo” / “Founder of the New City of Santo Domingo”.

The outline of the bronze statue of Fray Nicolás Ovando in Plaza Espana

Some of Ovandos accomplishments

*The appointment of Fray Nicolas de Ovando as governor of Santo Domingo was instrumental in the construction of the historical and tourist center today known as Colonial Zone. He gave it the charm and charisma it still has to this day.

*The governor built in the Ciudad Primada/ First City streets and buildings, such as the Convento de San Francisco/ Convent of San Francisco, Hospital de San Nicolás/ St. Nicholas Hospital, la Casa de La Moneda/ Casa de La Moneda, La Torre del Homenaje/ the Tower of Homage many beautiful private homes and also many streets including Calle del Rey/ King Street, later called Calle de las Damas.

*Villa Nueva Isabela, now called Villa Duarte, was the original settlement founded by Bartolomé Colón It is located on the other side of the Rio Ozama. The settlement was hit by a major hurricane in 1502 and almost destroyed. Fray Nicolás de Ovando was responsible for moving the settlement to the west bank of the Ozama River where Zona Colonial is now located.

*The Franciscan Monks arrived in 1502 under the command of Nicolas of Ovando. They started the construction of the the first monastery in the new world in 1508. El Monasterio de San Francisco now stands in ruins.

Iglesia San Lazaro

Iglesia y Hospital de San Lazaro / Church and Hospital of San Lazaro

The church was built in 1573 to be a resource to mediate with and convert the indigenous Taino population. It fast became a hospital for persons of limited resources, in simpler terms, the poor and destitute. It served these who suffered a multitude of contagious diseases of whom most were lepers. There were 20 beds.

Iglesia San Lazaro

In 1650 the hospital was run by Jerónimo de Alcocer. In 1743 the hospital had 20 beds and was divided into sections for the men and women. The men got two rooms and the ladies got one room.

The hospital was not a pleasant place. As the city grew it was used less because of the proximity to the colony and the diseased humans that were treated within the walls were just too close for comfort to the non-diseased persons living close by.

Iglesia San Lazaro

In Ruins

The building was ruined in the earthquake of 1751 and during the rebuilding the people gave it the name the “Chapel of the Raggedy Beggars” until it was finally rebuilt in 1759.

During the restoration of the building in 1880’s many skeletons were found. Many of them showed evidence of leprosy while others showed no traces of the disease. Many had other diseases and some had no traces of any abnormality. They were just victims of the bad practices of this notorious hospital.

Iglesia San Lazaro on Calle Santome


From Calle el Conde turn north on Santomé. Go about 2 blocks between Santiago Rodrigues and Juan Isidro Perez near Calle Restauracion in Zona Colonial