In 1493, Christopher Columbus built the first intentional European colonial town in the New World. It was intended as a base from which to establish Spanish presence and dominion in the Indies, and was Columbus’s American home.

Aerial view of La Isabela
Aerial view of La Isabela

The site is located on the east bank of the Bajabonico River where it empties into the Bay of Isabela, about 28 miles west of present Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Columbus brought seventeen ships carrying some 1,500 men, along with pigs, horses, cattle and other livestock, seeds and plants for crops, and the tools and equipment necessary to start a colony. Among the all-male settlers were craftsmen, builders, Franciscan friars, farmers, other occupations and social classes, all necessary to implement a Spanish way of life.

exterior walls and interior posts of the alhóndiga
The location of the exterior walls and interior posts of the alhóndiga (warehouse).

The town was surrounded by a wall, with a fortified storehouse at one end and Columbus’s citadel at the other. It had a plaza on the water, with several stone buildings and 200 palm thatch huts provided housing for most of the town’s inhabitants.

the Columbus house
The Columbus house, made of rammed earth (tápia) and cut limestone, is the oldest remnant of a European structure in the Americas.

Archaeological evidence shows that there was a second settlement near the walled town, that served as a center for ceramic production, industry, agriculture and ranching. Isabela was only inhabited for five years, and disease, overwork, Indian hostilities, food shortages and mutinies occurred almost immediately, and it was abandoned when Santo Domingo was established in 1496-1497.

dig site
Excavations underway at the site

Historical archaeologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History collaborated with the Dirección Nacional de Parques de la República Dominicana, and the Universidad Nacional e Experimental Francisco de Miranda in Venezuela to excavate and study La Isabela between 1989 and 1999. The results of that work can be seen on site at the Museum of la Isabela, as well as in the articles, publications and reports listed below.