The Diego Columbus Alcazar. First Viceregal Palace of the New World
Santo Domingo was the first city conquered by Christopher Columbus when he arrived to the New World and from where he carried out various expeditions.
And it was in Santo Domingo where the first Viceregal palace inhabited by three generations of the Admiral’s family was built. This is the Diego Columbus Alcazar, also known as Viceregal Palace of Don Diego Columbus. In 1509, Diego Columbus, firstborn son of the discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus, reached the island of La Española as governor and viceroy by order of the Spanish King Fernando. His wife came with him, Mrs Maria de Toledo.
The palace construction began in 1511 and finished three years later. By an unknown architect, the building has Mudejar Gothic style but with Renaissance details, mainly in the arcades, and tassels of Elizabethan style serve as decoration. It has two levels with five arches each. The arcades located at the first floor are formed by round arches, while in the second floor arches are depressed. The rear facade gives onto the gardens and Ozama River. It was constructed using coralline rocks, limestone and wood, providing a solemn and sober look. It is said that 1500 Indians was involved in the construction. The alcazar was inhabited between 1512 and 1577. Although Diego Columbus died in Spain in 1526, his wife remained there until her death in 1549.
Abandonment and Recovery
Years later, in 1586, the English privateer Francis Drake destroyed and sacked the alcazar. The abandonment, passage of time and inclemency of the weather did not help its conservation and the palace was in ruins in 1776. At that time it was thought to make a public prison but this idea did not materialize in the end. In 1779 the roof began to sink and it turned into an animal shelter. In order to protect it, the Dominican government gave it the status of National Monument in 1870. The remodeling at that moment was carried out by the Spanish architect Javier Barroso, between 1955 and 1957. Today it is the Museum Diego Columbus’ Alcazar, a good example of the passage of Spaniards in Santo Domingo.
The former official seat of the Spanish crown in the New World played an important role in the Spanish conquest and colonization of America. All rooms housed great conquerors like Hernán Cortés, Pedro Alvarado, Pizarro and Velázquez and from there the conquest of Peru, Mexico or Cuba, among others were planned.
At present, the museum displays about 800 pieces, originals and replicas, including furniture, artwork, tapestry, household utensils, dinner service, ceramics, armor and religious objects from different centuries. A tour around its rooms takes us back centuries ago and the way of life of Columbus family. Among its 22 rooms, originally 55, we can see the office of Diego Columbus, bedrooms, a music room (with a portrait of Santa Cecilia, protector of musicians), a reading room or library (with original books), the chapel of Mrs María de Toledo or a reception hall.
Besides his role as viceroy, the Dominican history ‘evidences’ Don Diego and Maria marriage as well. This explains that, in the absence of the viceroy, Mrs Maria leaned out of the balustrade every time she saw a boat approached hoping that it was her loving husband. Such was her love for him that she did not let up in her efforts until she brought the remains of her husband from Spain to the island. When she died she asked to be buried not beside him but below.
Located in Plaza de España, at the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, the museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday and specialized guides or an audio guide can help you during the visit. It is a recommended visit so as to know the seat of the first Viceregal of America and the history of Don Diego Columbus.