The Gates of Santo Domingo
In the early history of the Santo Domingo, the entire area known today as the colonial zone was surrounded on three side by a continuous defensive wall or murralla in Spanish. The south side of the city was protected by the cliffs and ridges of the Caribbean Sea. Entry into the city was controlled through one of four gates. Although most of the murralla has been destroyed, three of the four original gates still exist.
Just down the steps behind the Alcázar de Colón, Don Diego Columbus' palace on the edge of the Ozama River, is the Puerta de San Diego (San Diego Gate). Built in 1571, it’s the original main gate to protect the city from attacks coming from the river. You can still see some of the old murralla that stretched from the Ozama River to Puerta El Conde the western end of Calle el Conde, the first commercial street in the New World. In colonial times, the city received its most important visitors through this gate. It was restored in 1980.
Puerta de la Misecordia (The Gate of Mercy) became the main entrance into the city from the west beginning in the 1600s. Near the gate was an executioner’s scaffold that also contained a small chapel. The gate acquired its name during the hurricanes and the 1842 earthquake when poor and impoverished citizens fled beneath the scaffold seeking protection.
The Gate of Mercy, built 1543, was a part of the murralla that protected the city. At this gate Ramon Matias Mella, one of the city’s founding fathers, fired the first shot on 27 February 1844 to begin the bloodless coup to regain Dominican independence from Haiti. The gate was restored in 1980.
For today’s Dominicans, the most important gate of the original gates is Puerta El Conde (Count’s Gate). This gate was named after Bernardo de Meneses y Bracamonte, the Count of Peñalva and the Captain General of Santo Domingo from 1653 – 1656. The Count is credited with saving the city from 13,000 British invaders led by Admiral William Penn (founder of Pennsylvaniain the United States) and General Robert Venables.
Puerta El Conde was originally a part of Fort San Genaro which defended the city from sneak attacks by land from the west.
Puerta El Conde became a Dominican national symbol of freedom on February 27, 1844 when Dominican heroes reclaimed their independence from the Haitian government after 22 years of occupation.
On that date, Francisco del Rosario Sanchez raise the Dominican national flag for the first time. The gate was officially renamed Puerta de 27 Febrero but is called Puerta El Conde by locals.
Today Puerta El Conde is the archway leading into Independence Park (Park Independencia), a peaceful oasis amid the busy streets.
The major attraction in the park is the Altar de la Patria (Altar of the Nation), a national mausoleum. Inside the altar are statues of Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Ramon Matias Mella, three Dominican founding fathers and national revolutionary heroes.
On the side of the arch facing the Park is inscribed the phrase “Dulce et Decori est pro patria mori” which is Latin for “It is indeed sweet and honorable to die for the fatherland”.