Ozama Fortress also known as Fortaleza Ozama, was built in 1502, is the oldest fortress of European design in the New World, located in the old city within Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Named after the nearby Ozama River, this imposing structure was constructed by Spanish colonizers using local coral stone and Taino and African enslaved labor. With walls almost 10 feet thick, the fortress is nearly impervious and has outlasted numerous nations and governments who have used it as a symbol of their ultimate authority.

Throughout its history, Fortaleza Ozama has served various purposes, including being a military base, home to the viceroys of Santo Domingo, and a prison. Christopher Columbus, the most well-known viceroy, lived in the fortress during his tenuous reign. However, his corrupt and tyrannical rule led to his dismissal, and lived in it as the dungeon’s prisoner. Over the centuries, the fortress has been exchanged between various countries, including England, France, Haiti, the former Gran Colombia, and the United States.

During the draconian rule of dictator Rafael Trujillo, Fortaleza Ozama was used as a prison where countless political prisoners were detained and tortured. After much-needed national reforms, it closed as a prison in the late 1960s. Today, Fortaleza Ozama stands as a national landmark, offering visitors a glimpse into the island’s tumultuous history and the opportunity to climb la Torre del Homenaje (Tower of Homage) for a beautiful 360-degree view of Santo Domingo.

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