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A highway to the past.

THE NEED TO COPE with the pressing urban problems of today helped officials in the Dominican Republic find an innovative way of preserving some of the country's most important ecological and cultural assets from pre-Columbian times.

Santo Domingo, the country's sprawling capital city of over two million inhabitants, had recently begun to experience rampant and ill-planned development on its western fringe. The haphazard trend of settlement threatened to compromise the integrity of a network of cliffs, underground lakes and ancient cultural sites just beyond the Caribbean shore.

The solution was the recently-inaugurated Avenida y Conjunto Ecologico Cayetano Germosen, an extension of an important city throughfare through the heart of the area that protects its natural attributes while providing an important transportation link from the suburbs to the city center. The main attraction is a nine kilometer-long wall of steep-faced cliffs, accented by the presence of 11 caverns and a number of subterranean lakes. The avenue skirts the southern face of the chain of cliffs and snakes through several prominent outcroppings, giving visitors a dramatic close-up view, even from the interior of a car.

For those who wish to spend more time in the area, the government has provided ten well-identified interpretive sites, complete with pathways and stairs to facilitate access. In addition to a wide range of rare flora and fauna in the area, archaeologists have also identified 18 sites that display evidence of indigenous cultures that predate the country's well-known Taino civilization.

Although the project is so new many Dominicans have yet to visit it, officials believe Avenida Cayetano Germosen will come to rival such better known ecological destinations as Santo Domingo's Botanical Gardens and Zoological Park.

"The area has been converted into a museum of speleology in miniature and an educational laboratory where students can investigate and know Dominican nature," commented Padre Julio Cicero, a noted local religious leader. "The majority of Dominicans don't know that one of the most important eco systems in the country and one of the most original in the world can be found right in the capital of the republic," commented government official Juan Salvador Tavarez on the occasion of the project's completion.

And while providing a one-of-a-kind opportunity for residents and visitors alike to observe first hand a distinctive Caribbean ecological treat, Santo Domingo's city planners also solved a transportation dilemma for over 100,000 suburban commuters in outlying neighborhoods.
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Title Annotation:Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Author:Holston, Mark
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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