DOMINICAN REPUBLIC  |  Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Travel Guide
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Santo Domingo Museums 2

Museums Beyond the Zona Colonial

Museo Bellapart

Though housed on the second floor of a Honda dealership, this private art collection near the Botanical Gardens is worth seeking out. On display are the works of several 20th-century Dominican artists as well as the series by Spanish exile and social realist José Vela Zanetti called La Vida de los Campesinos. Since the exhibits rotate often (and the museum closes temporarily when they do), it’s best to call ahead before making your way out here to the northwestern reaches of the city.

Museo Numismático & Filatélico (Stamp & Coin Museum)

An extension of the country’s Central Bank, this museum displays the largest stamp and coin collection in the entire Caribbean. You’ll see coins and stamps dating back to the Colonial era, as well as more modern examples.

Museo Faro a Colón (Columbus Lighthouse Museum)

Several rooms here are dedicated to interpretations from around the world of Columbus’ voyages to the Indies. You’ll also find a permanent exhibit of paintings of the Virgin mother, done by artists from around the Americas.

Palacio Nacional (National Palace)

The splendid neoclassical National Place, office of the country’s president, dates from the Trujillo era and extends for the better part of a block. While it isn’t a museum as such, its contents – a hall of mirrors with 44 sculpted Caryatids, huge epic murals, and miles of marble, mahogany, crystal, and gold inlay – are worthy of one. While there are no regularly scheduled tours, visitors are sometimes afforded one if you call for an appointment two days or more in advance. At the very least, you can admire the structure’s pink exteriors, fashioned from Samaná marble.

Sala de Arte Pre-Hispánico - Fundación García Arévalo

This private collection of Taino artifacts maintained by the philanthropic arm of the Pepsi- Cola Corporation rivals or even surpasses that of the Museum of Dominican man (below). Beautifully displayed ceramics, jewelry, ceremonial artifacts and statues of Taino gods trace the culture of the indigenous Indians from their beginnings in Venezuela to their migration to, and presence in, the Dominican Republic.

Museums: In Plaza de la Cultura

Encompassing an entire city block in northern Gazcue, this multi-building center dedicated to high art and to the cultural and intellectual development of Dominicans was initiated by then-President Balaguer in the early 1970s. The complex houses four important museums, the National Theater (for performing arts), the National Library, and a cinema. To enter any of these buildings, women and men must be properly attired – meaning no shorts or bare arms. To come here by public transportation, take the OMSA bus marked “Corredor Máximo Gómez.”

Here are the four museums found within the complex:

Galeria de Arte Moderno (Gallery of Modern Art) The permanent collection on the second and third floors here represents the country’s best and most influential 20th-century and contemporary artists, including Cándido Bidó (known for his distinctive paintings of campesinos), Guillo Pérez, Silvano Lora, Alberto Bajo, and Clara Ledesma. The other floors rotate the works of various up-and-coming artists.

Museo del Hombre Dominicano (Museum of the Dominican Man)

The barren appearance of the first floor of this outstanding museum gives little indication of the treasures on display upstairs, especially on the third and fourth floors. Climb up to the third floor to view a magnificent display of pre-Columbian Taino sculptures, jewelry, tools, pottery, and ceremonial pieces. The fourth floor focuses on the influences of the African slave trade, emphasizing religious practices, music, and carnaval traditions. There’s also an excellent exhibit on Dominican peasant life, including a re-created dwelling. All descriptions in the museum are in Spanish only. The building is fronted by three statues: an African, a Taino, and Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, the 16th-century friar who petitioned the Spanish Crown for the humane treatment of the Tainos.

Museo de Historia y Geografía (Museum of History & Geography)

Currently undergoing renovations, this museum is not to be missed when it reopens in 2007. Its collection spans two centuries of Dominican history. One room houses a smallish collection of historic memorabilia pertaining to the 19th-century Haitian occupation of the DR. A second room is dedicated to the eight-year American occupation of the country (1916-24); one particularly noteworthy item on display is an electric chair used to torture Dominican nationalists who were opposed to the intervention.

But the most compelling and extensive exhibit displays uniforms, medals, toiletries, and other personal effects depicting the vainglory of former dictator Rafael Trujillo, including makeup that he applied to disguise his part-Haitian ancestry. Alongside are examples of Trujillo portraits that once hung in every Dominican home, as well as public signs thanking the “Benefactor” for improving the lives of the citizenry. A final ironic exhibit is a bullet-riddled car from the motorcade in which he was assassinated. The museum’s gracious director, fluent in English, is a good resource for history buffs.

Museo de Historia Natural (Museum of Natural History)

The least noteworthy of the four museums may interest children the most. The first floor displays an enormous skeleton of a humpback whale, among other whale exhibits. There are also well-done display boxes depicting (stuffed) endemic species of the various regions of the country in their natural environments. Kids may enjoy playing with the huge lightboard that highlights the locations of the country’s larimar, gold, and other geological deposits, as well as explaining the fossilization process of amber. The planetarium is the coolest (literally and figuratively) room in the museum, featuring a 25-minute audio and laser presentation of the galaxy.

Last updated November 24, 2007
Posted in   Dominican Republic  |  Santo Domingo
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