In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue… Along with cheesy rhymes and anachronistic cartoons, many children these days are also taught false information – some of which is hard to replace. As with any country, knowing a bit of (true) history makes a visit much more resonant, not to mention respectful.
Although Christopher Columbus explored the Americas on behalf of Spain, he was actually Italian, and although residents of the United States tend to think he landed on the continent first, he didn’t. After visiting what is now the Bahamas and Cuba, he actually settled on the island of the Dominican Republic (and Haiti), calling it “Hispaniola.”
The Europeans’ relationship with the native Taino people was tumultuous and ended in tragedy, as with most native populations in the Americas. Although the Taino tribes were wiped out from smallpox, abuse, and forced assimilation, the extent of Columbus’ role remains unclear. Many historians blame Columbus personally for the fate of the Taino, while others simply view him as a product of the times that created him.
Columbus’ brother, Bartholomew, was responsible for much of the construction of Santo Domingo (one of the very first New World settlements) and where Christopher was buried a decade later. Now a UNESCO site, the capital also contained the first university and cathedral of the New World. At the end of the 18th century, Spain handed ownership over to France.
A river, a NASA space shuttle, South Carolina’s capital, worldwide monuments, streets, chapels – even a nomination for Sainthood by the Catholic Church – not to mention the second Monday in October. The man’s legacy extends beyond bank holidays and anthropological terms (i.e., “pre-Columbian”). In the Dominican Republic, you’ll find the Columbus Lighthouse (Faro a Colón) in Santo Domingo, although most of the locals aren’t what you’d call fans, for obvious reasons.
Courageous explorer or genocidal maniac? Bulk up on some facts – though objectivity is pretty difficult to find – and decide for yourself. Perhaps while visiting the Dominican Republic, just like visiting other colonized nations, you´ll be able to feel the layers of history beneath your feet: from Taino to Spanish, African to Dominican.
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