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Sitio Arqueológico de la Villa La Isabela

Date of Submission: 05/02/2018
Criteria: (ii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Dominican Republic to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Puerto Plata
Coordinates: N19 53 16.72 W71 4 48.90
Ref.: 6289
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Description

Villa La Isabela Archaeological Site includes, among other archaeological vestiges, the ruins of the buildings built in the first European settlement in America: the Villa of La Isabela.

The site has 2 hectares and is located on a calcareous cliff over the Atlantic Ocean, at the foot of the northern mountains rage, northwest of the Dominican Republic (north of the island La Hispaniola) and between the cities of Puerto Plata and Montecristi, on the east coast of La Isabela Bay. In 1493 the Admiral Christopher Columbus selected this place surrounded by natural borders to establish the first European “villa” in America to conquer and colonize these lands, reasons to his second trip to the “New World”.

The archaeological site has the foundations of five major vestiges: a Tower (watchtower), a Royal Warehouse, a "Tesorería", a Church and the Admiral Christopher Columbus’s house (his only dwelling on the continent), all of them the first made by European in America. In general terms, the urban morphology is dispersed, with no specific pattern of distribution, with the exception of for the geographical conformation dictated by building, distinctive of a medieval town. In the north, certain functional cohesion between the warehouse and the "Tesorería" suggest the existence of a civic-military-administrative axis in the south, the church and the Columbus´s house point defines a political-religious axis.

The Site also includes the place where the first shipyard and city´s pier were located. Nowadays those elements are buried under debris. Situated on a short distance from the fortified area there is a quarry used to take the stones used to build the buildings of the villa.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

La Isabela is the determining point from which the conquest of America starts, being the place where the colonizing actions that expanded the Kingdom of Spain in the "New World" were carried out for the first time. There came the European technologies, as well as the introduction of fauna and flora. Instead, from here came the first samples of American fauna and flora to the old continent, an exchange that modified the exploitation and use of natural resources and influenced the diet of the western world. It is the first place of interchange between the Spanish and the aboriginal languages, incorporating into Spanish words currently in use as they are: canoa, huracán y maíz, guanábana, yuca, casabe, among others.

Criterion (ii): Villa La Isabela Archaeological Site testifies the novel exchange of human values held between Europeans and aborigines in the American continent. Some of the main pioneering actions made by Europeans are: the founding of the first European "villa" with mayoralty "cabildo", the construction of the first church and the only residence of Christopher Columbus in America, the first military base, as well as the first shipyard and blacksmith shop, the first European cemetery, this is also the place where the first European seeds were sown and the first Mass was celebrated.

Criterion (v): Is the first settlement in America with the essentials medieval characteristics, due to the pattern of its spatial morphology. That distribution is also identified through the archaeological artifacts recovered in the zone; those constructive and organizational elements do not present any kind of cultural syncretism between the aboriginal and European populations. The settlement was established with a mayoralty "cabildo", a privilege given to a medieval town.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity

From the moments of its foundation, a very credible chronicler2 and indirectly the Admiral himself3 left written testimonies telling about the geomorphology of the site, minimally altered since then; in those texts they described the form and design of the colonial town, they listed the uses, functions, materials and administration of the important public buildings, all that information has been corroborated by the archaeological excavations accomplished between the 1987 and the 1944.

Before long the place was abandoned but it has never been forgotten. Respected and revered, in time acquired a regional national and international symbolic value. Here is celebrated the day of the "discovery" of America, October 12. Every year, on January 6, a commemorative mass is sung in honor of the first eucharistic celebrated in the continent, it is as strong expressions of the community recognition and identification with this monumental site.

Integrity

The main buildings registered by the chroniclers have been liberated and recognized during the archaeological works; its distribution and spatial relations clearly reveal the urban morphology distinctive of a Columbian "village". Furthermore other structural elements insinuated but not mentioned in the historical chronicles have been located, some of them are: the dock, the ironworks and the shipyard sector for the "construcción of caravels"; the supply quarry for “las casas públicas...de piedra”, an artesian water well and a ceramic oven.

The landscape of the Bay of La Isabela conserves the same wild and virgin extension from the time of the village foundation. In the other hand, natural actions (earthquakes) and man (inappropriate interventions) drained the original old aquifer delimitations (trough and sea channel).

Comparison with other similar properties

The settlement pattern repeats the irregular configuration of the Middle Ages town Ages (such as Huelva, Palos or Moguer) well known to Spanish, as well as the settlers and the patron of Islamic cities (such as Granada or Cordoba) frequented by Spanish dignitaries, instead of being inspired by the regular network arrangement used at that time (such as Puerto Real, Ronda or the model Santa Fe) that the Admiral well knew.

Historically, the foundation of La Isabela is unparalleled in history because of its status as the first settlement with a foundational character ordered by the Spanish Crown. Its category of "villa" distinguishes it from the "factories" founded in Africa, simple settlements to negotiate with the natives. In addition to being a commercial enclave, La Isabela was the site from which support was given to the conquest of the "discovered" territory.