Official Map of Santo Domingo in 1785

In the late 1700’s Mr. Tomás López was the official geographer for the Spanish Monarchy.  He made a name for himself by focusing on making maps of the kingdoms and major cities of Spain. In 1785 he made what could possibly be considered the most exact map of the city of Santo Domingo made in the Spanish colonial era. As we analize the map several details that were not previously known of this capital city comes to light.

The Limits of the City 

The very first detail that catches our attention are the city limits. In the XVI century the limits of the city were defined with the construction of a perimeter wall. Judging by the official map of 1785, it appears that the limits that were established were ambitious because the built-up area of the city doesn’t cover the entire innerwalls area.

Due to the invasion made in 1586 by the English pirate Francis Drake as part of the Anglo-Spanish War, the decline of Santo Domingo accelerates. In this invasion a third of the stone houses were destroyed and the inhabitants were impoverished when Francis Drake took as ransom all their jewels and everything that was valuable. Not even the original copper bells of the First Cathedral of the New World was exempt from the theft.

Population Fluctuations 

In the XVII century, also known as the Century of Misery in Dominican historiography, the island of Santo Domingo begins to suffer a constant emigration flow that ends in the beginnings of the XVIII century. When the population reaches rock bottom, the Spanish part of the island was reduced to approximately 6,000 inhabitants.

Despite the declining nature of the population in the Spanish territory, in the XVII century the area near the city of Santo Domingo experimented a demographic growth. There were two major factors that increased the population outside the city walls.  First, in February 18, 1684 many Spanish families that migarted from the Canary Islands founded the town of San Carlos de Tenerife a stone throw away from the gates to the city. Second, in the XVIII century hundreds of black fugitives, some Spanish-speaking but most were runaway slaves from the French part of the island that hid in the Bahoruco Mountains, were gathered by the Spanish authorities and used them to establish a new town named San Lorenzo de los Mina near Santo Domingo, but on the opposite side of the Ozama River. Despite the establishment of all of these Spaniards and Africans in the vicinity of the capital city, the population within the city walls was continually decreasing. The situation got so bad that by the beginning of the XVIII century most of the houses were in an abandoned state.

By 1785 the population of the Spanish part of the island had recuperated to at least 125,000 people. This spectacular increase was due to the mass migration of entire Spanish families from the Canary Islands that was encouraged by the Spanish Monarchy, and the rapid multiplication among these Spaniards whom had on average 7 to 8 kids per family. To a lesser extent the population increase was also helped by a modest increase of the minority of the population that was enslaved and a slightly more vigorous increase of runaway slaves from the French part of the island, to whom Spanish laws guaranteed their freedom as soon as they placed a foot on Spanish soil.

It is evindent in the map that by 1785 the city of Santo Domingo had been enjoying a population growth. This growth is evidence by the dark squares that represents small houses that were recently built. Despite this increase, the city doesn’t expand beyond the city walls until the 1890’s.

Differences between the Colonial City of 1785 and Today 

We identified several differences by comparing the map of 1785 with what now exist in the Colonial City of Santo Domingo.

  • The Fortaleza Ozama (Ozama Fortress) appears on the map as La Fuerza.
  • The Puerta de la Misericordia (Mercy Gate) had the name Puerta Grande (The Big Gate).
  • The Plata Forma that appears on the western wall (on the lower part of the map) no longer exist.
  • The Puerta de las Atarazanas (Dockyard Gate) was called Puerta de la Cetarazna.
  • The Palacio de los Gobernadores (Governor’s Palace), which today is the Museo de las Casas Reales museum, was called Palacio del Señor Presidente (Palace of Sir President).
  • What in the map appears as the Iglesia Catedral is the Santa María La Menor Cathedral, First Cathedral of America.
  • The Convento de los Domínicos (Dominican Convent) was also called Convento de Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo Convent).
  • What today is known as the Monasterio de San Francisco (Saint Francis Monastery) was also a convent.
  • The Hospital San Nicolás de Bari on the map appears as Hospital Real (Royal Hospital). This is also the First Hospital of America.
  • The residence of Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas was known as Los Cuarteles (The Quarters).
  • The Matadero (slaughterhouse) was located where today José Gabriel García Street meets Espaillat Street.
  • The Almacén de la Pólvora (gunpowder warehouse) was located where today is Polvorín Street.
  • The Colegio (college, referring to Saint Thomas of Aquino University, the First University of the New World and today known as Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo) was located where today Arzobispo Meriño Street meets Arzobispo Portes Street.

Other Interesting Details on the Map

SAN CARLOS DE TENERIFE. The houses grouped around a church on the outskirts of the city walls is the town of San Carlos de Tenerife. It was founded on February 18, 1684 by many Spanish families from the Canary Islands. The name of the town honors Saint Charles (San Carlos) and the island of origin in the Canary Islands of the founding families (Tenerife).  The Our Lady of Candelaria Church, which sits in the center of the town, is the only structure from the colonial era that still exist in San Carlos. Today the old town of San Carlos de Tenerife is a residential and commercial neighborhood of the city of Santo Domingo, within a short walking distance to the east of the National Palace and to the west of Chinatown.

PAJARITO.  Opposite the Ozama River from the Colonial City is the tiny village of Pajarito. Today this community is part of the city of Santo Domingo Este. That it appears in this map is evidence that this sector originated in colonial times.

SANS SOUCI BEACH. The Sans Souci beach and wavebreaker that currently exist at the mouth of the Ozama River didn’t exist in 1785. This evidences that it is in fact an artificial beach, a detail unknown to most people.

THE 1785 MAP WITH NORTH FACING UP. We rotated the map so that north faces up, as it does in most standard maps published today. This also makes it easier to compare the limits of the city of Santo Domingo in 1785 with today’s limits of the Colonial City of Santo Domingo, shown below.

COLONIAL CITY OF SANTO DOMINGO IN JANUARY 2019. This satellite image show how the limits of the Colonial City of Santo Domingo have not changed through the centuries. For better detail, we highlighted the approximate route where the perimeter wall facing inland used to stand in its entirety. Today approximately 70% of the original perimeter wall exists, most of it hidden behind modern buildings. Perhaps 10% of the perimeter walls facing inland are easily visible. All the original gates exists. In blue is highlighted the area that was occupied by the town of San Carlos de Tenerife. Notice the Our Lady of Candelaria Church as the white rectangle in the middle, next to the main park in that area. That’s the only colonial structure that survived in San Carlos. 

OFFICIAL MAP OF SANTO DOMINGO (1785). This is how the original map looks like, made for the exclusive use of the King of Spain.