Monday, October 12, 2015

The Lighthouse in the Dark

It was meant to be a beacon in the Dominican Republic, a shining monument to commemorate the voyage of explorer Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean in 1492. Ultimately, the Columbus Lighthouse (“Faro a Colón”) is a financial boondoggle that has been largely overlooked.

Dominican historian Don Antonio del Monte y Tejada in 1852 first suggested building a monument akin to the mythical Colossus of Rhodes though designs weren’t finalized until Scottish architect J.L. Gleave submitted a winning design in 1931. Construction of what would become the 680 foot long concrete crucifix would be delayed due to decades of domestic political instability and a lack of expected donations from other countries. Then-President Joaquín Balaguer in 1986 decided to go ahead with the state footing the bill plans even though the World Bank estimated that 37.3% of Dominicans lived in poverty. The Lighthouse would be completed in 1992 for the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ voyage and prior to a visit by the Pope yet with a price tag of $70 million (or roughly 5% of the country’s GDP). 

The monument was meant to be a major tourist attraction that included the regular lighting of 251 strong beams of light into the night sky. In the almost twenty-four years of its existence, however, the beacons have been rarely lit due to high energy costs and constant blackouts. The neighborhood near the structure is riddled with crime and residents derisively refer to the area as an “Apache zone”. Weeds, garbage and tall grass grow on the vast grounds of around the Lighthouse. The mausoleum is said to house the remains of Columbus though it has yet to be definitely proven if the remains belong to the famed explorer. An average of 100 tourists visit the structure daily despite some efforts by the government to improve the site.

Special events were held on Monday at the Lighthouse to commemorate what one local daily called “the 523rd anniversary of the discovery and evangelizing of América.” For critics of Columbus’ impact on the continent, it may seem fitting that such a massive monument in his honor is slowly becoming akin to the sculpture buried beneath the sands of time in the famous Shelley poem Ozymandias.

YouTube Source – Ciudad Digital (Efforts to clean up overgrown vegetation near the Columbus Lighthouse in 2014).

Online Sources (English) – Atlas Obscura, World Bank, Academy of American Poets

Online Sources (Spanish) –, Listin Diario, Hoy Digital, Diario Digital

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