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Between the provinces of La Romana and La Altagracia in the Dominican Republic, many places of great tourist, environmental, and historical-cultural importance can be found. Some of these are lesser-known and unexplored by those who choose the eastern region of the country for vacationing.

This article focuses on one such lesser-known place, even among the locals – the Juan Ponce de León Stronghold Museum, located in the municipality of San Rafael del Yuma, approximately 24 kilometers from Higüey, 53 km from Punta Cana, and 43 km from La Romana.

This edifice, now transformed into a museum, was built in 1505 by the Spanish conquistador and explorer Juan Ponce de León after being appointed lieutenant governor of the Higuey province by Nicolás de Ovando.

The pieces exhibited in the museum date back to the late 15th and early 16th centuries, including armor, furniture, cabinets, bureaus, braziers, spinning wheels, decorative plates, and some items found in the area.

This historical structure, currently undergoing improvements in terms of museology and collection, has been under the direction of Josefina Pichardo Casasnovas, the Art and Museums Manager and resident of Casa de Campo, since January.

Pichardo Casasnovas’s work is already well-known in the Casa de Campo community, as she was part of the team that coordinated the Meninas exhibition in Altos de Chavón.

For Pichardo Casasnovas, directing the Stronghold House is a significant challenge, as her intention is to make it an attractive and interesting point for those interested in learning more about the historical ties of our island with Hispanic heritage and indigenous culture.

“Until now, the narrative has been that this structure was the house where Juan Ponce de León lived with his family. However, we are considering giving a new twist to that narrative in this new restructuring, as we entertain the theory that besides being a house, it was also a fortress,” said Pichardo Casasnovas.

Regarding the theory that the Ponce de León House was also a fortress, its coordinator, Henry Solano, explains that the theory is supported by the thickness of its walls, as colonial houses of that time didn’t require such thick walls. Additionally, he points out the height of the main door, which can accommodate a mounted man, and the few windows it has.

Solano states that these are characteristics of a place for sheltering, resisting an attack, or even attacking from within, typical of a fortress.

A Comprehensive Tour: Culture, Hiking, and Ecotourism

Pichardo Casasnovas’s idea of making the visit to the Juan Ponce de León Stronghold Museum more appealing to the public includes, in addition to improving its museum displays and narrative, a tour of the municipality of San Rafael de Yuma, with its main attraction being the town of Boca de Yuma.

This small coastal town is located just about 10 km from the municipality of San Rafael del Yuma and a few kilometers from the East National Park, one of the largest natural parks in the Dominican Republic.

It is a humble village, surrounded by beautiful beaches and inhabited by hardworking men and women who offer visitors fishing, excursions, and delicious food at any of the local restaurants.

In the vicinity, there are a series of dry and submerged caves adorned with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.

It’s an ideal spot for white or blue marlin fishing and sailfish fishing. It’s also a beautiful place for boat excursions, during which you can visit some of the small beaches in the area for a swim.

Undoubtedly, Pichardo Casasnovas’s project to integrate the visit to the Juan Ponce de León Stronghold Museum with the attractions of Boca de Yuma will be of great interest to tourists seeking integrated experiences.

At the moment, this museum is open to the public by prior reservation.

The photographs in this article were taken by Mairobi Herrera.