Altagracia is the name for the province, capital Salvaleon de Higuey.
It is said that the natives named the region this way since it is the first to receive the rays of the sun, due to its geographic location. In 1503 Juan de Esquivel conquered this cacicazgo and founded a fort that in 1506, through an order made by Ovando, became a Villa named Salvaleón de Higüey. This villa was granted a Coat of Arms in 1508 by a royal privilege.
During colonial times it remained a parish in the Seibo region. Then in 1801 it became a District of the Ozama Department due to the territorial divisions made by Toussaint Louverture during his reign of the Spanish part of the island. After the period of the Reconquest, it again became a parish in the Seibo region until 1821 when due to Boyer's invasion it became part of the Ozama Department. When the Republic was proclaimed, the Joint Central Government designated it as a community of the Seibo Department, one year later it became a community of the Seibo province.
It maintained this position until 1861 when it became property of the political and military government in the Seibo region; when the Republic was restored it again regained its condition of community in the Seibo province in 1865. It is currently head community in the province of La Altagracia. Forming part of our history is the arrival of a painting depicting "Nuestra Sra. de La Altagracia", which was brought to Higuey during the early period of the discovery of America by two Spanish Christians born in Placencia, Extremadura, Alonso and Antonio de Trejo. This occurred approximately 22 years after the discovery and thus Alonso and Antonio were the first settlers of the villa. Once there, they founded a sugar cane mill near the Sanate River.
Virgin of La Altagracia.
The Trejo brothers placed the painting in the neighboring church of Higuey, where they had some haciendas, in order to venerate it since they had experienced some "miracles". Thus, the birth of the municipality is closely tied to a religious tradition. The act of worshipping the Virgin of "La Altagracia" (literally, "the High Grace") has been maintained since its arrival to that small wooded-roofed hermitage where the servants were in charge of its care. According to tradition, the Virgin of La Altagracia appeared in an orange tree where the first church of the San Dionisio Parish had been built and where the Gospel had first been preached in the eastern territory.
In the place of the "appearance" (which has been given new value because of a mosaic made by San Pedro de Macorís native Said Musa) an orange tree has been planted there for as long as can be remembered. When one dries out, another is planted. A sanctuary was built in 1505 by Juan de Esquivel, conquistador of Jamaica.
This was the first sanctuary in America and its construction began in the 16th century by Alonso de Peña and Simon Bolivar (fifth grandfather of the South American liberator). The San Dionisio Church belfry rang for the first time with its clock on October 9, 1896. Its erection was made possible by Rafael M. Vallejo, its minister at the time.
This sanctuary that would hold innumerable devotees and pilgrims was substituted by the Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia, which was linked with a grand avenue to the old sanctuary. The Basilica's first stone was blessed and placed on October 5, 1954, its construction concluded in 1971.
The festivities in honor of the Virgin de LA Altagracia are held on January 21 each year. It was on that day in 1960 that the battle of Sabana Real (also known as the battle of Limonada) took place in Higuey against the French and during which the protection of the Holy Virgin of la Altagracia was invoked.
La Vasilica de la Virgen de la Atagracia.
Manití Park is a “must see” for tourists, as is the fabulous Basilica Nuestra Señora de Altagracia, the modern temple in the city of Higuey that was built to honor the country’s patron saint, the Virgin of High Grace.
The province also boasts a private ecological/scientific reserve in Punta Cana, the Bávaro Lagoon with rare endemic fish, and the vast National Park of the East, that includes Isla Saona. The protected area encompassed by the park was once one of the most heavily populated indigenous regions.
The Taínos and their ancestors have left many vestiges of their culture here, including caves with incredible drawings and sculptures, such as Cueva José María, which is difficult to get to and difficult to access, but has what is perhaps the largest quantity of cave drawings in the entire Caribbean and, perhaps, the most important because some archaeologists say these wall murals demonstrate that the Taínos were on the verge of writing.