No one wearing shorts is permitted inside the old cathedral.
The City of Santo Domingo de Guzman, the first permanent settlement in the New World, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The old Colonial City is home of the first cathedral, first hospital, first monastery, first university and first court of law, all of which survive in some restored form.
But it is not a dead city. In the evening, after the tour groups depart, shuttered buildings turn into sidewalk cafes that breathe a whole new life into the streets and plazas. Situated beside the Ozama River, the Colonial City with its cobblestone streets, medieval fortresses and palaces is a walker's dream.
Across the Ozama, looking like the flames of a departing rocket ship, is the huge Columbus Lighthouse containing the purported remains of the explorer. The monument definitely is worth visiting after dark. The Old City can be enjoyed day or night.
There are many possible ways to stroll the Old City. This route is a 6 block-long loop that starts at the fortress of Diego Columbus, son of Christopher.
1. Museo Alcazar de Colon: Colon is the Spanish word for Columbus and Diego's fortress was built during the early 1500s to be the seat of the viceroy court. Diego and his wife Maria de Toledo lived here until 1523, when he was recalled to Spain. Other relatives lived here for decades afterwards.
The building was abandoned in 1770 and turned into a garbage dump. Cave-ins in 1809 and 1835 left the building in ruins. Skilled stonecutters first restored it in 1957, with added refinements made during several later restorations. Serious attempts were made to remain faithful to the original construction and décor.
The fortress is now a museum with furnishings that were provided by Spain —twice. The first set of furnishing and decorations were mostly destroyed by American gunfire and bombing during the 1965 invasion, requiring their replacement by the Spanish government.
2. Plaza de Espana: This large, open air plaza in front of the Alcazar de Colon fronts numerous small restaurants and outdoor cafes that are quite popular in late afternoon.
The street bordering the plaza is closed to traffic. In the past it was the Plaza de Armas, where soldiers paraded. Before that it was the conuco (cultivated fields) of the native Tainos.