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Las Casas Reales
The Royal Houses

These are two adjacent and connecting buildings. Both were constructed simultaneously after 1520. From the beginning they were called The Royal Houses.

The Governor of Hispaniola resided in one of these buildings. This is the one to the right when one faces the main entrance. Stone is predominant in this structure.

The other building was the seat and venue of the Royal Court and the General Accountancy. It is the wing of the palace on the corner of Mercedes Street. On the ground floor was the Accountancy. And on the floor above, the Royal Court. Here brick and rubblework are predominant.

The sun dial, facing the Royal Houses, is a of much later construction, dating to 1753. The Royal Court of Hispaniola was founded on October 5, 1511.

It comprised a President or Chief Justice and three or more associate judges. Many times its President was the Governor of the colony. The Royal Court had jurisdiction over all the neighboring islands and the Spanish Main, as it was called then. The Royal Court of Santo Domingo reached its peak of importance between 1526 and 1540.

The Royal Court of Santo Domingo had to settle disputes between Alvarado and Almagro, support Pizarro against the rebellion of the Indians of Cuzco, and mediate in the provinces of Central America, Venezuela and Florida. In its final days, Louisiana -then a Spanish territory- was under the jurisdiction of the court of Santo Domingo.

An English chronicler who accompanied Drake on his expedition was quite impressed with the architecture of this palace. He wrote that on the second floor there was a reception hall, which has been identified and reconstructed: it is some sixty-five feet long by twenty feet wide.

One approaches this room through a beautiful, wide staircase. The room is decked with the coat of arms of Spain. And underneath the stairs there is a large globe of the world. Over the globe, a horse on his hind legs, ready to jump.

Next to those figures, a phrase in Latin: Non sufficit orbis (The world is not large enough).

On the ground level in the back of the building were the stables and the carriage house. Also, the guard room and offices. There was a main courtyard and an open area for the help. At the end of this yard, to the west, one could exit through a doorway into the public marketplace, which was across the street, quite near to Casa del Cordon.

The office of the Governor was in the northeast corner. From this point one had a good view of the gate of San Diego, the main entrance to the city. The north wing, on the floor above the ground, was reserved for the family quarters.

On this floor, but in the area reserved for the Royal Court, there is an elongated room. It measures roughly ninety by seventeen feet. Here, the Royal Court gathered to listen to the accused. Then they retired to a smaller, adjacent room to deliberate and award the respective sentences.

At first the Royal Court would meet in the City Hall building, where the municipal jail was located: just across from the Plaza de Armas or Main Square. Subsequently they held their sessions in one of the halls of the Atarazanas. That was before Las Casas Reales were built.

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Content EDUCA1998 - Copyright CaribSeek 2004 - All Rights Reserved - Web Published: February 27, 2004