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First Cathedral of the Americas

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Basilica Catedral Santa Maria de la Encarnacion (also known as Santa Maria la Menor, or most commonly by locals as the Catedral Primada de America), is located on the Parque Colon in Santo Domingo's Zona Colonial, is the oldest cathedral in the Americas. It was begun in 1514 with the intention that it become the center for Vatican-led religious proselytizing in the New World. Construction was completed in the early 1540s, after some delays caused by workers abandoning the work to search for Central American gold.

The architecture has elements of the Gothic style predominant in Europe, but its fanciful friezes and ornamentation mark it as Plateresque. The 500-year old Mahogany doors remain, and are still opened by the same centuries-old key, the alter is hammered silver. Also attractions include a 1520 painting of the Virgin Mary, the former site of Columbus's tomb (now several miles away at the Faro a Colon), and several historic and beautiful murals and windows. Also look for the uncovered bell tower (the covering was removed by Francis Drake in the mid-16th century).

Oldest Cathedral in the AmericasAs the oldest extant church in the Americas, the Catedral Santa Maria is one of Santo Domingo's top tourist attractions. Hours were 9 am to 4 pm last time we were there, and although they are subject to change, it is open on most days. It's also a working church, masses start at 6 am on Sunday and it hosts weddings and babtisms, mostly for upper class Dominicans.

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