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Monday, June 29, 2009

Faro a Colon (Columbus Lighthouse)

From Avenida Mexico, I got onto a taxi (D$150 or S$6) to Faro a Colon, the Columbus Lighthouse. This gigantic structure more than 10 storeys tall was built in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the "Discovery and Evangelisation of the Americas" by Christopher Columbus.  Inaugurated by then Dominican President Balaguer, Pope John Paul II and King Juan Carlos of Spain, some estimated that as many as 50,000 slum dwellers had to be moved and US$100 million was spent for the project.  The power that it consumes when fully switched on (thus able to project the shape of a cross on the skies over Santo Domingo) is so demanding that it would cause black-outs across the surrounding areas of Santo Domingo.  The building was designed in 1929 by a young British architect via an international competition organized by the then Dominican dictator General Trujillo, who probably loved those massive concrete blocks reminiscent of architecture typical of Stalinist-Fascist regimes of the era. 

 

At the heart of the complex was an elaborate marble structure enclosing the supposed remains of Christopher Columbus, guarded by a Dominican armed sailor in ceremonial naval blue-white uniform.  He rests in a room nearby and rushes to attention whenever visitors come (which is not a lot of the time).  After photos are taken of him, he relaxes and retreats back to his room.  Interestingly, there are two other claimants to the tombs of Columbus: The cathedrals of Seville, Spain and of Havana, Cuba.  Historians and forensic scientists had performed DNA test on the remains in Seville and concluded that those in Seville were mostly likely those of the great explorer. The Dominicans had refused to open their Columbus tomb and the Cuban tomb was considered least likely and was not investigated at all. Whatever the truth, I had visited the tombs of Columbus in Seville and Havana, and this visit to Santo Domingo ensures that I have at least covered all possibilities!

 

Two corridors of exhibition rooms on the southern side of the complex contain exhibits on the cultures and history of selected countries of the Old World and the New World, the latter including indigenous cultures destroyed by the arrival of the Europeans.  These dusty exhibits were of mixed quality and were donated by governments of the countries concerned. 

 

The whole complex appeared grey and worn.  Only the ground floor was occupied and the other nine floors were not opened to the public.  There were few visitors, even on a Sunday, which explained why the staff and naval guards there appeared a little bored.  I asked a few Dominicans and none have been there before. What a white elephant!

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