The oldest cathedral in the Americas – and the oldest church in the West Indes – the Catedral de Santa Maria le Menor is one of the oldest landmarks in the Ciudad Colonial (Colombus’ first settlement in the New World) of Santo Domingo, itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the Dominican Republic.
The architecture is a mishmash of the city’s foreign-style influences, particularly Gothic (flying buttresses, vaults, and arches) and Baroque (colonnades, domes, and playing with shadows). Debates abound about whether the famous explorer’s ashes were once buried within.
While you’re in the area, you can get to know other ‘firsts’ of the New World, like the first hospital, Hospital San Nicolas de Bari, built in 1508 and now in semi-ruins from multiple earthquakes; first monastery, Monasterio de San Francisco, later used as a mental asylum and now also in ruins; and first university, Universidad Santo Tomas de Aquino, closed in 1832 and reopened later as part of the nation’s public university system.
Also nearby are the Count’s Gate (La Puerta del Conde), where the first Dominican flag was raised; a rare tapestry collection in the Columbus Alcazar, or mansion; the Ozama Fortress, a castle from the 16th century which later became a prison – and which is the oldest military building still standing in the Americas; and the National Pantheon.
If history is your thing, make sure and bring a book along or study up before you go – it helps to know what you’re looking at!
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