Saturday, December 4, 2010

Discovering the Possibilities

Magnet # 409:  Dominican Woman with Produce

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Dad

The Dominican Republic and the rest of the island of Hispaniola celebrates Discovery Day tomorrow.  This dates back to 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed there on December 5th during his first voyage to the New World.  He basically named it the Spanish Island and when his ship the Santa Maria ran aground there on Christmas Day, he set to work founding its first European settlement, La Navidad.  Because the vessel was no longer usable, he ordered its materials be stripped and used to construct a small fortress.  He found its lush mountains and large rivers stunning and had been told that there was a great deal of gold on the island and wanted to claim it for Spain.  But he sailed back across the Atlantic without finding any, leaving some of the men to build up the settlement there.  He had hoped to find they'd prospered when he returned later in the year, but instead discovered they'd been wiped out by the natives, who claimed they'd been abused by the men.  Columbus established another settlement, La Isabella, further east on the island and La Navidad was more or less ignored until 1977, when an amateur archaeologist was able to unearth some of its artifacts.  Between hurricanes, disease, and hunger, La Isabella didn't prove to be much more successful than its predecessor, so in 1496, Columbus abandoned it and his brother Bartholomew established what came to be known as Santo Domingo on the southeastern coast of the island.  His third try proved to be the charm - it's now the largest city and capital of the Dominican Republic, and remains the oldest city in the Americas.  But he didn't stay very long before his successor as the governor of the Indies accused him of poorly managing the territory and Columbus was taken back to Spain in chains.  He was cleared of the charges and when he returned to Santo Domingo during his forth and final voyage, he found that its new governor was also hostile toward him.  He refused to let his ships drop anchor at port, and even ignored Columbus' warning that a hurricane was brewing to the east.  The explorer and his ships then fled to another part of the island, where they received very little damage from the storm.  However, it nearly wiped out governor's fleet of thirty ships, leaving only one behind and claiming over 500 lives, including that of the former governor who had made accusations against Columbus.  He might have been grateful he wasn't in Santo Domingo at that time but when he was later stranded on Jamaica, he truly wished he could make it back there.  But one of his men was able to reach the territory in a canoe with the help of natives, and he told the governor there of Coumbus' desperate situation.  Fearing the explorer would seize control of the settlement, the governor did all in his power to prevent him from being rescued.  Columbus was able to receive the assistance he needed, and he headed back to Europe without making a trip to Santo Domingo.  Five years later, the heartless governor was removed from his post and replaced by Columbus' son Diego.  He'd remain in charge for a decade and after his death in 1526 the influence of the Columbus family on the island of Hispaniola would continue to dwindle, although one of his sons became Admiral of the Indies.  But both the Dominican Republic and Haiti are clearly grateful for the contributions Christopher Columbus made toward the creation of their countries.

Even if you can't make it out to Hispaniola for tomorrow's festivities, you can check out one of the most important landmarks the Columbus family left behind - Santo Domingo's Alacazar de Colon.  Columbus's son Diego had it constructed between 1510 and 1510 as a home for his family and an impressive mansion to use in his office as governor.  It's the oldest Viceregal residence in the Americas and was of utmost importance during colonial times.  However, it fell into neglect until the 1950's, when it was saved during a full-scale restoration.  Now visitors to this historic site can appreciate some of the most impressive historic Caribbean art at its Museo Alcazar de Diego Colon.  And there are few European structures that are this old in the New World, so that would make a trip to it particularly impressive.  Thanks to the settlements Columbus established there, Hispaniola can claim the longest colonial history in this part of the world, and it's fitting that they still commemorate the day when he made it all possible.

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