The history of Santo Domingo: 11 facts to impress

Santo Domingo is a captivating, energetic city f (we should know, we’ve lived and worked here for a number of years now!) which boasts a mixture of Spanish, African, French and Asian culture. But it’s the history of the city that’s really interesting to learn about. Not only is it the oldest city of the Americas, but it’s also, our opinion, one of the most culturally rich and vibrant too.

So you’re clued up on what to expect when you arrive (and you can impress your hostel buddies), here are  11 lesser-known facts on the history of Santo Domingo…


  1. Founded in 1498 by Bartholomew Columbus (the brother of Christopher), Santo Domingo is the first city of the New World.
  2. The city was one of the first to be based on a grid structure, which maps out the streets in many other cities around the world today.
  3. Many of the buildings were built in the16th century and have Spanish-Gothic influences.
    Santo Domingo
    The architecture in Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo is impressive
  4. In 1586, English explorer (or pirate as he’s known here within the history of Santo Domingo) captured the city with around 700 men.
  5. From 1795 to 1822 the city changed command several times; France had control in 1795, but by 1801 Haitian slaves controlled it until recovered it again in1802 before Spain took over in 1809.
  6. The city has over 300 museums and historical artifacts, many of which are free to enjoy, as we’ve outlined previously.
  7. Santo Domingo is the most populated city in the Caribbean and at the last census in 2010, 965,040 people were accounted for.

    Runias de San Francisco
    Ruinas de San Francisco, Santo Domingo
  8. The city was once called Ciudad Trujillo after the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo who held power from 1930 to 1961. However, after his assassination in 1961 the city was renamed Santo Domingo again.
  9. The offices of both the President and Vice President are in the grand National Palace (although the President doesn’t live there).
  10. Spanish is the main language spoken, followed by Haitian creole among the Haitian immigrants. Around 8,000 people, mostly those descended from U.S. slaves who came to the island before the U.S. Civil War, also speak English creole.
  11. The history of Santo Domingo is that it’s named after St. Dominic (which means “Santo Domingo” in Spanish). He is the country’s patron saint and the founder of the Dominican Order.



Heading to Santo Domingo? Island Life Backpackers hostel was voted the best hostel inSanto Domingo? Contact us today for room rates and offers on trips and excursions.

ReinhardLink/Jean-Marc AstesanaGenosonic;Flickr