Ciudad Colonial (Spanish for "Colonial City") is the first settlement made by Christopher Columbus and the Spanish explorers in the New World. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Colloquially known as "Zona Colonial" (Colonial Zone), Ciudad Colonial is part of the original Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and the origin of the district dates back to the 16th century. The District is located in the west corner of the Ozama River, which bisects the city. The district today covers less than 5 square kilometers.
It is an important section of the city due to the high number of landmarks, including Alcázar de Colón, Fortaleza Ozama, Catedral Primada de America, and others.
The Spanish used this settlement as the first point of influence in the Americas, from which they conquered much of the American mainland. Even though Spaniards focused their attention more on the mainland after conquering Mexico, Peru, and other regions of Latin America, Ciudad Colonial remained an important historical site.
The city was surrounded by a defense wall (murralla, in Spanish) extending from the Ozama River to the Puerta del Conde ("The Gate of the Count", in Spanish), which was the only entrance to the hinterland and the furthest boundary of the city until around the late 19th century. In the 17th century, it is known that the defensive wall was modified after the Siege of Santo Domingo led by the William Penn and Robert Venables. The 1655 invasion was thwarted by Spanish troops commanded by the Captain General of the Colony, Don Bernardino de Meneses y Bracamonte, Count of Peñalva, to whom the Puerta del Conde is named after. Prior to the invasion, there was a fort at the site where the Puerta del Conde is today, Fuerte San Genaro. It is believed that the modification that occurred after the siege involved the expansion of the wall to the fort, effectively creating a bastion, El Baluarte del Conde.
The defensive wall was composed of various bastions, such as El Baluarte del Conde and gates such as La Puerta de la Misericordia. There were also several forts which ran along the wall, such as El Fuerte de la Concepcion and El Fuerte de Santa Bárbara.
Ciudad Colonial today
The cobblestone Calle Las Damas is the oldest street, dating from 1502. The pedestrian-only street is bordered by many of the zone's more prominent landmarks.
There are two important commercial districts in or adjacent to the Zona Colonial, including the Calle del Conde and Avenida Duarte (Duarte Avenue). Both have many shops and cafes. The portion of Avenida Duarte just north of the Zona Colonial is the local shopping center, and is currently undergoing a renovation plan that aims to make the area more appealing to tourists.
The recently restored and expanded Plaza de España is bordered by Las Atarazanas, filled with small shops and restaurants. This area was one of the first commercial centers in the Americas, and is still a hub of activity today. The Alcázar de Colón, having once been the colonial palace of the Columbus family—beginning with his son Diego—is now a well-regarded museum displaying period furniture and decorations. The building was originally built in 1510.
A 700 million US dollar investment was made in the Port of the Ozama river adjacent to the Ciudad Colonial aiming to turn Santo Domingo into a port of call for luxury cruise ships and including a privately-owned marina. The project is being completed by Sans Soucí Ports S.A. One of the most ambitious projects of its type, it is expected to turn the Colonial District and the rest of Santo Domingo into an area attractive to tourists, something never achieved before.