El Castillo del Cerro
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Just west of San Cristóbal, on top of a hill, is El Castillo del Cerro (Castle on the Hill), one of Trujillo’s houses—more of a palace really but it looks more like a giant post office. Trujillo had the six-story structure built in 1947 for US$3 million and never stayed one night in it when it got back to him that his confidants had criticized it. Trujillo quickly claimed that it was a gift from the townspeople.
After Trujillo’s death all five stories were looted, and today it sits like an opulently empty shell with some accents still clearly visible as testament to the lavish lifestyle he had: marble staircases, gold leafing, dining rooms, ballrooms with intricately painted ceilings, mosaic tiles, and multiple bedrooms and bathrooms.
Trujillo commissioned José Vela Zanetti to paint murals in his opulent home. When the famous painter agreed, he went on to portray campesinos dancing with sad faces. This angered Trujillo (he had wanted them painted with happy faces, of course!) so much that the painter had to flee the country in fear of his life.
The second floor has a recreation room and library, on the third floor was where the dictator and his daughter had their living quarters, and the fifth floor was devoted entirely to Trujillo’s beloved son, Ramfis. Perhaps the most surprising thing about El Castillo del Cerro is that it is not even a museum and yet you must wear long pants and sleeves and no sandals to be granted a tour.
It simply is locked up and guarded by an armed guard who will open it up and show you around if you tip him. To get there, take Calle María Trinidad Sánchez to Avenida Luperón and take a left at the Isla gasoline station; veer right at the fork in the road, then left and up the hill. The tour is free.
Casa de Caoba (Mahogany House), another of Trujillo’s houses, was looted too after his death, and while it appears as though it was probably once a beautiful home, it was ransacked and sits empty. Not just empty but totally stripped and like a concrete ghost. This one is five kilometers north of San Cristóbal. Promises have been made off and on to restore it to its former glory, promises that have not been kept. This site could easily be skipped unless you are a hard-core Trujillo history buff.
Casa de Caoba is not open to the public but sits on the opposite side of a chain-link fence. Visiting it is limited to looking at its skeletal remains from a short distance, unless you catch sight of the guard, in which case you can ask to be let in and shown around.
© Ana Chavier Caamaño from Moon Dominican Republic, 4th edition