Fortaleza San Felipe
A minor dark site in the city of Puerto Plata
on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic
. This coastal fort, which was built by the Spanish in the mid-16th century and is the oldest surviving structure far and wide, is mentioned here only because of its link to the Trujillo regime (see under Dominican history
!) and in particular the Mirabal sisters.
Their husbands were incarcerated in the fortress and after they had visited them on 25 November 1960, the sisters were on their way home when their car was ambushed at La Cumbre
and the Mirabal sisters murdered – see Mirabal House
What there is to see: not actually that much. From the outside the fort may be somewhat impressive as an old fortified pile as such, but not in any particular dark way.
You can go inside, and for foreign visitors there are now even audio-guides available in English or French. The central tower of the fort houses a small museum of sorts. On display are old rusty weapons and cannon shells, old coins, as well as various text and photo panels.
But none of this even remotely touches on the role the fort played in the Trujillo era, namely as a dungeon to incarcerate and torture political prisoners (including the Mirabal sisters' husbands – see Mirabal House
). Instead it's all solely about the old history of the fort, Puerto Plata
and the Dominican Republic
The only vaguely dark aspect that is mentioned is the fact that the fort had been used as a jail long before. And one of the best-known prisoners held here was Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic and leading figure in the War of Independence. However, he was controversial and ended up in exile. But today he is again revered as a martyr of the nation.
Not too surprising then that the museum has an oil painting of the man in one corner next to a ceremonial Dominican flag. The information panels on his story are even bilingual (Spanish and English – though the translation into English could do with some polishing up!). And one panel has moments of Duarte's life represented in largely word-free graphic-novel style (for those who can read neither Spanish nor English?).
Other than seeing the small museum you can climb to the top of the central tower for good views of the bay and harbour of Puerto Plata
and the mountainous backdrop of the city. Walking around the rest of the small fort you can see the fortified walls and little corner turrets from the inside, or marvel at a number of old cannons, a wooden chest and a set of barrels. That's it. Not worth specifically travelling for, perhaps, but worth a look when in the area.
on a headland north of Puerta Plata
's harbour, overlooking the bay, roughly two thirds of a mile (1 km) from Parque Central in the heart of the city.
Access and costs: fairly easy; fairly cheap.
To get to the fort from the centre of Puerto Plata
you could theoretically walk it, but you can also drive up fairly close. At the time of my visit parking was a bit limited due to construction under way on the seafront, but my space was still only a five minute walk or so from the fort entrance.
The entrance to the fort is on the south-eastern side, at the end of a path winding up the hill. The ticket office is right inside.
Admission: 100 RD$ (including the audio-guide).
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Time required: not long. The audio-guide covering the inside of the museum has a running time of roughly 20 minutes or so … but I saw people not even staying that long in the museum – which is an indication of how exciting people find it (not very). Outside you may spend another 10-15 minutes, so in total you'll need only half an hour or a little more.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Puerto Plata
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
You can walk from the fort to the city centre of Puerto Plata
– or drive part of the way, park by the old fire station (worth a look in itself!) and walk from there. Only five minutes or so and you get to the heart of the old town, the aptly named Parque Central.
- Fortaleza San Felipe 1 - ancient structure
- Fortaleza San Felipe 2 - massive walls
- Fortaleza San Felipe 3 - central tower
- Fortaleza San Felipe 4 - inside
- Fortaleza San Felipe 5 - small museum
- Fortaleza San Felipe 6 - old exhibits
- Fortaleza San Felipe 7 - old shells
- Fortaleza San Felipe 8 - wooden chest
- Fortaleza San Felipe 9 - cannon