Located in the northeastern part of the Dominican Republic, the San Fernando de Montecristi municipality is bordered to the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the east by the Villa Vasquez municipality and to the south by the Pepillo Salcedo municipality.
It is well known that on October 12, 1492 Columbus' crew set foot on American land for the first time in the island of Guarani or San Salvador, in the Bahama islands. During the same voyage, and after discovering Cuba, he reached the Hispaniola island on December 5, landing in a beautiful port, currently located on the Haitian side, which Columbus named San Nicolas. During this first voyage, the Santa Maria ship landed on a sandbank. With the rest of the crews and the help of cacique Guacanagarix, they built a small fort named La Navidad, which was equipped with weapons, supplies and 39 men led by Diego de Arana.
When the first settlement was built, Columbus headed back to Spain in order to report to the Catholic Kings. On his trip back he discovered the Manzanillo Bay and the Morro de Montecristi (Montecristi Bluff), the first geographic point visible from a great distance. Bartolomé de las Casas made these comments about those events: "After arriving, and founding La Navidad villa, Christopher Columbus sailed east, towards a very high hill, which looks like an island, but is not, because of its low land, which has the shape of a very beautiful kestrel that he named Monte-Cristi in honor of Christ, for the beauty and greatness of its valleys and hills worthy of Christ.
He followed the way until entering the large hill and the isle (Cabra key), where he found three and a half fathoms of bottom with low tide and a very good dock. He went with the ship to the key where he found fire and traces that fishermen had been there. He saw many beautiful painted stones or quarry stones there".
Las Casas says that "the Admiral too personally recognized a great river called Yaque by the Indians, that was said to have gold. He entered the river and found that the sand at its mouth was large and deep and supposedly full of gold and the Admiral named it the River of Gold". After traveling through all of the north and east coast of the island, Columbus left for Spain in January of 1493, in order to report the discovered lands to the Catholic Kings. Meanwhile, Caciques Maguaca Canoabo and Guacanagarix joined forces and decided to attack the Spaniards that had stayed in the La Navidad Fort, due to the abuses and crimes carried out by Diego de Arana and his group. The fort was completely burned and its defenders killed in this the first hostile encounter between the Spanish and the natives.
Once returning from Spain, where he had received honors from the Kings and the Court as well as from the people, Columbus heads almost directly towards Monte Cristi with the idea of settling there. But when he arrives at the beach and finds four unburied bodies, a bad presentiment came over his idea. In fact, when the Admiral's float anchors in the place where they had built La Navidad Fort, they contemplate what had happened and confirm what they had felt at the Monte Cristi beach, the fort had been burned down and the Spanish bodies had been dispersed around the nearby area.
This made Columbus give up the idea of settling in the place. Historian Américo Lugo, in his "Historia de la República Dominicana" (History of the Dominican Republic), indicates that the first settlement in Monte Cristi was the work of Nicolas de Ovando (1502 1509), who arrived from Spain as governor of the island.
However, the most accepted version is that Monte Cristi was officially founded in 1533, by an order of the Metrópoli, by a group of sixty families from the Canary Islands, led by the Spaniard Juan de Bolaños, an event that is confirmed by Fernández Oviedo. Metrópoli disposition no. 77 dated October 6, 1545 conceded to Francisco Mesa the title of Monte Cristi Governor for life and without pay, and No. 78, dated November 10 of the same year, conceded Monte Cristi the title of city. The settler's assiduous task and their interest for maritime commerce made many of the area's residents prosperous merchants. The Portuguese currency circulated in the city, which at the time was worth more than the Spanish peso.
During 1605-1606, for political reasons that alluded to the fact that the region had been turned into a center of contraband and due to the illicit traffic of Dutch and Portuguese ships, King Phillip III of Spain decided to order a stop to these practices. His orders were savagely carried out by colonial governor Antonio Osorio. And this is how the city of Monte Cristi is left destroyed and its residents, along with those in Puerto Plata, taken to settle the town of Monte Plata in the south central part of the island, near the city of Santo Domingo.
Later on, part of the descendents of these refugees were slowly settling back to their former region. The last settlement of the municipality was decided by a Royal Order on March 8, 1749, signed by the King of Spain Ferdinand VI of Borbón, while Francisco Rubio y Peñaranda was colonial governor and carried out the measures to indult the city. From that date on, Monte Cristi became a commercial population whose dock exported wood, honey, leather, and other products while at the same time receiving European products. Representatives from various European companies established in this city their centers of distribution for the rest of the country. A large variety of commercial products entered the port, which brought about a considerable economic rise in the area. The first private aqueduct in the country was installed there in 1889 and the first urban telephone network was installed in 1908.
The economic rise slowly started to disappear when the railroad between Puerto Plata and Sánchez, which ran through Moca and San Francisco de Macoris, was built in 1890. The city lost commercial transcendence although it was still present in the geo-political plane. The city produced men that in different time periods shaped the history of the nation; such as Juan Isidro Jiménez, restoration leader Benito Monción, guerrilla Demetrio Rodríguez, Manolo Tavárez and mayor Julio De Peña Valdez. Likewise, writer José Ramón López, scientist and writer Andrés Avelino, musicologist, poet and playwright Manuel Rueda; Isabel Mayer, first woman to occupy a Senate Seat in the Republic, poet Chery Jiménez and the great baseball player Juan Marichal are Montecristi natives.
The final push for the conquest of Cuba's freedom came from Monte Cristi. On March 25, 1885, in a small house located in what today is the Mella avenue, General Maximo Gomez, from Bani, and Jose Marti, from Havana, sat down to sign a document that would be known as the Montecristi Manifesto, in which they reaffirmed the brotherhood between both peoples and which committed them to fight until Cuba gained independence. Little afterward, in light of that goal, a handful of Dominicans and Cubans embarked on a boat at night and, guided by the Cuban leader, sailed out of the Pablillo key in the Montecristo coast, heading towards Cuba.
The famous public clock of the San Fernando de Montercristi church was installed there precisely before the departure of that group. When its bells wakened the city's residents, the Cuban pastor of the time would often repeat: "that clock will mark the hour of Cuba's liberty". This clock is still a symbol of the city, with its iron structure and a shape similar to that of a champagne bottle. Built in France, it was installed in Saint Germain. Due to measures taken by Benigno Conde, a Venezuelan that worked as an accountant in the Casa Jiménez (an important export-import business) it was bought and taken to Montecristi in the Lavonia steamer and then taken by streetcar to its original place, the Duarte Park, former Arms Plaza. Although it had a 20 year guarantee, it has surpassed its time of service, its bells ringing with precision every fifteen minutes, announcing the quarter hours, the half hours, the three quarter hours and the whole hours. In April of 1879 the city was assigned head of the maritime district of the same name and declared a municipal district.
The Montecristi province, with this municipality as its capital, was created by the Constitutional reform carried out during the Ramon Caceres government in 1908. The beautiful Cabras key is found in front of its northeastern coast at a distance of 1.8 kilometers. Next to it, towards the same direction, appear the Cayos Siete Hermanos (Seven Brothers Keys): Monte Grande, Montechino, Terreno, Ratas, Arenas, Muerto and Corurú. The idiosyncrasies of the Montecristi people has its roots in the amalgam of native, Spanish, French, "cocolo", English and Haitian cultures.
Carnival festivities and National Independence day in February constitute moments of collective joy that are celebrated with dances, parades and bull games. The patron saint festivities of San Fernando are celebrated every May 30 with religious acts, solemn mass, the patron saint procession and sport encounters, dances, popular games and other diverse cultural activities. The following are among its natural patrimony: the Montecristi National Park, which includes the mangrove area of the Manzanilo Bay and the Saladillo Lagoon; the "Morro" with its streams and adjacent mangroves; Pablillo Key or Cabras Island, the Siete Hermanos Keys, and part of the surrounding maritime area.
The very beautiful Saladillo Lagoon is the largest and most important in the network of lagoons that surround the mouth of the Masacre or Dajabon River. It is a water supply source for the Pepillo Salcedo municipality and a natural habitat for migratory and native birds, as well as for the American crocodile.
The mouth of the Masacre River is in Manzanillo Bay. The city of Pepillo Salcedo, and its dock that is capable of handling exterior commerce, is in front of its waters, as are the Juan Bolaños Beach, characterized by its gentle waters, the Morro Beach and La Granja Beach. .
The National Park of Montecristi is centered around the famous Morro of Montecristi, a huge mountain of rock that juts out into the blue waters of the Atlantic—Christopher Columbus himself named it “El Morro” because its shape reminded him the tents of the Moors he had seen in Spain.
Climb out to the edge of the craggy cliffs to view the Morro from the panoramic point just beyond the visitors’ station at the park, or see it from the pebble-and-rock-strewn Atlantic beach below… if you are really adventurous, climb the steps up, up, up to the top. Just beyond it is a small island with a fire-watch tower (one of the Seven Brothers Cays that belong to the park). Two centuries ago, a ship carrying a huge cargo of clay pipestems was shipwrecked here, and if you sift through the sand on the beach, you may be lucky enough to find one.
The town of Montecristi is split into two parts, the touristy part along the shoreline (tourism has replaced salt evaporating and fishing as the major income producer for the region) and the town proper, a kilometer or so east, with its quaint Victorian architecture; the townspeople are especially proud of the19th-century clock in the central plaza.
There is a museum dedicated to Máximo Gómez and José Martí, and another pre-Hispanic Museum that belongs to the Socias family. The cemetery on the edge of town is the burial site of many famous Dominican generals, patriots of the War of the Restoration. The province boasts several navigable mangrove jungles and the scientific reserve of Villa Elisa, as well as vast acres of plantain and banana plantations.