History

In essence, Santo Domingo’s history is the history of the Europeanization of the Americas.

Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Taíno Indians populated the island of Hispaniola, including the part now occupied by the Dominican Republic. At that time, a chieftain or cacique ruled the island through a complex, centralized government, a fact completely lost on the Europeans, who dismissed the natives as “savages.” The Taíno civilization effectively ended on October 12, 1492, with the arrival of Christopher Columbus, who declared Hispaniola “the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.”

Throughout its first century, Santo Domingo was the launching pad for much of the exploration and conquest of the New World. The expeditions that led to Ponce de Leon’s “discovery” of Puerto Rico, Hernan Cortes’ conquest of Mexico and Balboa’s sighting of the Pacific Ocean all started from Santo Domingo.

In 1586, the famous English pirate Francis Drake invaded and pillaged Hispaniola. This weakened Spanish dominion over the island, and for more than 50 years all but the capital was abandoned and left to the mercy of the pirates. In 1655, the French invaded the West portion of the Island. After several treaties and forced annexations, the portion of the island controlled by Santo Domingo was reduced to less than half. Later, in 1822, the Haitians, commanded by Toussaint Louverture, took over the entire island, and the island’s Spanish-speaking residents had to fight for their lost independence. Finally, on February 27, 1844, the Spanish part of the island regained its independence after 22 years of Haitian rule thanks to a group of patriots headed by Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Ramón Matías Mella, being the Puerta del Conde the main scenario of this relevant event.

After the independence was achieved, and the Dominican Republic created, various political factions struggled for control of Santo Domingo and skirmishes continued along the newly-created border with Haiti. In 1861, Santo Domingo annexed itself to Spain. This lasted for four years and culminated with the “Restoration” of Independence. After that, Santo Domingo was governed by several autocrats, most notably by dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (who took power after the 1916-1924 occupation by the United States), which lasted from 1930 to 1961 and ended with the execution of the dictator. The early 60s were again a period of unrest, marked by a coup, revolts and second invasion by the United States.

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