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Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic’s capital is the largest city by population in the Caribbean region. It is also the oldest continuously occupied European city in the Americas. It was founded in 1496 by Bartolomeo Columbus, and named La Nueva Isabel after his royal Spanish patron. The settlement became the gateway to the Americas for the Spanish conquest, and most of the expeditions that delineated the rest of the New World originated there, taking advantage of the deepwater delta of the Ozama River. Today the city’s Colonial Zone is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains a remarkable legacy of 16th Century buildings, including the first cathedral in America, Catedral de Santa Maria la Menor; the first monastery, Monasterio de San Francisco, the first castle, Alacazar Colón and the first fortress: Fortaleza Ozama. The Museo de Casas Reales is another treasury of significant buildings. The Dominican dictator Trujillo renamed the city after himself between 1936 and 1961, but it regained its previous name following his assassination. The city is a fascinating and colorful place, revealing a vibrant hybrid culture with recognizable influences from native Taino, African and European ancestry. Many visitors purchase souvenir jewelry created out of the fossil amber mined on the island of Hispaniola, which the Dominican Republic shares with the nation of Haiti.