Between the fortress and the stately homes along Las Damas Street, you may follow in the footsteps of Maria de Toledo and her court ladies. The daily walks of Diego Columbus’ wife resulted in the name given to the first paved street of the New World, where today our Cacao Museum is located.
Although Santo Domingo was officially founded on August 5, 1496 along the eastern bank of the Ozama River, Nicolas de Ovando relocated the city to its present site in 1502. Stone by stone, the Colonial City was built, with Las Damas Street and its iconic buildings at the forefront.
“The fate of the American continents was determined within this fortress,” states the historian, Maria Teresa de Catrain. The first construction was built here by the Spaniards in 1502. Here, the plants and beasts brought from Europe arrived, aboard the Conquistadors’ ships, to be nurtured, propagated and eventually shipped to other lands that were colonized. The list of historical figures who passed through the Fortress is long: Diego Velazquez, Ponce de Leon on his way to Cuba, Puerto Rico and Florida; Hernan Cortes who set sail to Cuba and Mexico; Alonso de Ojeda, en route to Venezuela and Nuñez de Balboa, who set forth to Panama.
Construction started in 1502 in what is currently the Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando Hotel, the first compound of lodgings erected in the Americas. This mansion was the residence of Governor Nicolas de Ovando. Because of its imposing size, the structure appears to have encompassed three houses. Ovando provided lodgings for other conquistadors, including Nuñez de Balboa, Ojeda and Ponce de Leon.
Number 42 Las Damas Street is today the French Embassy but it was once the house of Hernan Cortes. According to legend, it was here that he planned the conquest of Mexico and the Aztec Empire. Years later, the house was bought by the chronicler of the Indies, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who described for Europeans the mysteries of the New World in his texts which highlighted tobacco, pineapple and described the bat game, similar to a ball game, as it was played by the indigenous people.
Also built in the first decade of the 1500s, this residence belonged to the Conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas. He was the Spanish discoverer of the coasts of Panama and Colombia. In the latter location, he founded the city of Santa Marta. Situated opposite the entrance to our Cacao Museum, the site now holds the Trampoline Museum.
Initially, it was intended to be the residence of the first Bishop of Santo Domingo. This original tenant never arrived because he died in Spain in the year 1515. We do know that the second owner of the property was Canon Diego del Rio, the treasurer of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, who disembarked on the island in 1517. At present, the landmark is the site of our Kah Kow Experience.
Today known as the Museum of the Royal Houses, its construction began in 1511 by decree of Catholic King Ferdinand, who determined that the first court of the Americas be built on this site. The king’s judge would hear the cases brought before him by the plaintiffs from a special window, still preserved above the main portal, and would then determine which of the complaints merited a court hearing.
So, what are you waiting for? The Cacao Trail has reached the Colonial City with the Kah Kow Experience. Come visit and enjoy our Cacao Museum. Reserve your tour!