Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Puerto del Conde and Historic Preservation

El Puerto del Conde in Santo Domingo, the most significant historical site in the Dominican Republic, got a facelift recently, and Dominicans are hopping mad about it.

Here is the way the puerto used to look.

Here is how it looks after a recent preservation effort.

The puerto was erected in 1543 as part of fortifications to defend the new Spanish settlement from invasions.  After some modifications, Spanish forces beat back an attempted invasion by the English there in 1655.

No doubt it was in memory of that triumph that the first flag of the Dominican Republic was raised at Puerto del Conde in 1844.  The site now is part of a national park.

People are not pleased with the new stucco look.  They point out that other country's historic monuments -- the Great Wall of China, the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza -- have not been plastered with stucco.

Experts in historical preservation disagree.  They say Puerto del Conde's limestone underpinning always was covered with stucco.

Here is a picture of El Puerta del Conde early in the last century.  It doesn't look like the new puerto or the one that was plastered over.

In fact, a Dominican architect devoted to historical preservation in 1974 ordered what remained of the stucco to be removed from the limestone base of the structure.

In the intervening 40 years, current preservationists say, the gateway has been weakened by exposure to rain, carbon monoxide and the country's hot, humid climate.  They say the stucco will protect the puerto and allow it to last another 500 years.

Obviously the stucco is new.  Obviously the limestone is old.  What is the meaning of preservation in this context?

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