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The Columbus Lighthouse History Essay Example

The Columbus Lighthouse is one of the great monuments found within the Dominican Republic. The monument serves in various aspects such as conservation of national heritage and culture, but mostly the monument serves a s a memorial that harbors the remains of one of the country’s great explorers whose remains are conserved in the monument. The paper will therefore look into the history of the monument since the time when it was formed up to major details such as the construction method used and tools and materials that were used to construct the monument.

The Columbus Lighthouse (Santo Domingo)

The Faro a Colon that is commonly referred to as the Columbus Lighthouse is a huge monument that is located in the far east of the city of Santo Domingo (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). The imposing monument was mainly constructed in honor of Christopher Columbus under the American Civilization. On October 6, 1992, the monument was officially inaugurated in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Americas discovery.

Even though the mausoleum is known to be the particular house with Christopher Columbus’ remains, there is a conflict with Spain that claims that their popular navigator remains are housed in one of their cathedrals in Seville (Lorenzi, 2004). However, after taking the DNA from the bones buried in Seville and comparing to the DNA of Columbus’ brother who was buried in the same location, the two were found to be an exact match. Antonio Delmonte first came up with an idea that was aimed at making a monument. However, it was Ellis William, an American, who sold the idea to the Dominican Republic in 1994 and further took the campaign to the American press to create more awareness (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001)

In 1923, during the celebration to mark the Fifth International Conference in Chile, the idea was globally accepted through a decree that declared that it was necessary to build the monument and that all the peoples of America and other governments would cooperate in the construction (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). In 1931, a competition ceremony was held in Brazil to find the architect with the best design for the monument. The competition for Columbus Memorial Lighthouse was mainly expected to provide the country’s main city (Santo Domingo) with a crypt for the remains of Columbus, a functioning airfield, and a presidential palace (Lorenzi, 2004). The judging panel was composed of great architects such as Eliel Saarinen, Horace Acosta, Raymond Hood, and Lloyd Wright. There were over 455 entries in the competition. The first prize in the competition was awarded to an architect named Joseph Lea Gleave (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). However, despite the promise of cooperation by various governments in the construction of the monument, only eight countries had contributed by the year 1950. The Dominican government though went ahead with the construction project and inaugurated the monument’s foundation. Due to the adverse political situation taking place in the Dominican Republic, further construction was not possible and the project was halted until matters settled in 1986 when the building of the monument was resumed until it was completed in 1992 in time for the America discovery celebrations (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001).

At the center of the monument, there is the Cathedral de Saint Maria that had once held the remains of Christopher Columbus. The monument is 210 meter by 59 meters (680 foot by 195 foot) and raises ten stories high in a step-like design that resembles a Mayan pyramid (Lorenzi, 2004).


The Dominican Republic was influenced by different cultures and cultural practices during the construction of the monument. The country was associated mostly with its Spanish heritage and rich culture in art music and literature with the Merengue music being dominant in Santo Domingo. The religious culture was also prevalent at the time with the existence of the Roman Catholic cathedrals (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). The Dominican people were greatly influenced by the culture of the region, which governed every aspect of their culture and way of life. The majority of Dominicans are believed to belong to the Catholic faith. Regarding the Dominican culture of food and daily life, the country’s main meal was served in the middle of the day unlike the modern culture when it is served at night. The country at the same time valued its mixed cultural dynamism that was prompted by the mixture of the whites and black slaves. Culturally, the Dominican competent service was mainly based on the incorporation of all members of the family into every aspect of care and the changing aspect of support mechanism and social networks (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). The aspect of gender roles in the family was a much-respected cultural practice at the time with the family being patriarchal. Male members of the family were given greater roles in the family such as authority over the budget of the household and other members of the family. The aspect of disability within the Dominican culture was viewed within the framework that disability might be caused by supernatural causes or moral violations of individual values within a given society. Finally, sport was another prevalent culture during the construction of the monument.
As earlier stated, the construction of the Columbus Lighthouse was a decree of the pan-America union in which they agreed to contribute and cooperate in the building of the monument. The architectural design of the monument was obtained through a competition ceremony that was invoked by the Dominican Republic. Different architects and artist from different parts of the worlds came up with some of the most diverse structural designs for the monument, but Joseph Cleave’s design was awarded the first price (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). According to the Judges Cleave’s design, the monument made good use of the light effects and took refuge in the simplicity, force, and directness worthy of the monument of the ages.

Construction Materials for the Monument

Construction of the monument mainly relied on materials such as gravel, metals, paint, cement, clay tiles, and cables that were domestically available and aided the Dominicans in placing the monument foundation in 1948 after many nations had failed to contribute towards the project (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). The outer walls and roof of the monument were mainly constructed using the concrete block and concrete respectively. The softer stone of marble used during the building process was mainly extracted from an open quarry that was located in Boca Chica near Santo Domingo or from the natural cliffs. In the processing of the hard stones, workers mainly clipped off the top layers of raw stones and marked off various spaces that would form trenches in the building block. Workers then dug out the trenches to free the given block from the surrounding materials. At this stage of molding of the building block, major tools and equipment used were pointed picks made of hard bronze or stone and metal levers. Since the extraction of the building blocks required more special skills to produce them in the required size, it was mainly done at the extraction site before they were transported to the construction site (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). In turn, the soft stones that were mainly used in making the marbles were mainly taken to the construction site without being dressed and dressing only occurred after the concrete block had been laid on the building or wall. In some circumstances when blocks were required for a special purpose or feature such as the statuary, the hard stone was left unfinished at the extraction site. The limited use of other hard stones like quartzite was mainly a result of the lack of better extraction tools since the country was still underdeveloped. High-quality limestone was also shipped from the South coast of the island and was the main source of the sandstone used in the building of the Columbus Lighthouse.

Construction Methods/Techniques

Building materials that were used in the construction of the monument were mainly transported to the building site with the use of hand carts and other carts that were pulled by oxen. Once stones arrived at the construction site of the quarries, they were given final dressing on the sides to ensure uniformity with other stones they later got into contact with. The building blocks would then be placed in a row and individually shaped along the sides in irregular angles and fitted together. The main idea behind the irregular joints of the stones was to reduce the number of stones that was to be used in the process of building the monument. The building blocks were then taken next to the wall that was under construction and effectively placed by the stonemasons. The cutters then used the mud brick ramps to dress the blocks upper face (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). As the monument wall increased vertically, the builders adjusted the ramps access height, leaving the interior sides of the building block undressed, while ensuring that the outer surface that mainly formed the section of the visible wall was well dressed and then sufficiently smoothed once the whole wall was completed. A uniform surface was created through final dressing of the blocks and major tools used in this aspect included pounders and chisels. In general, the Dominicans strived to conserve some high-quality building blocks that were required for the project by strictly using the blocks as the outer casting of larger pylons and walls (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). The issue was to avoid making the walls out of raw materials that were local and of poor quality.


The foundation of the monument was laid down by the Dominican government in 1948. According to the extract below, the building was to be located to the West of the social science hall between a building and a lagoon.

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Builders of the Columbus Lighthouse mainly adopted the technique that ensured that the building foundation addressed the issue of the soil in the given area. The foundation of the building consists mainly of deep trenches that were dug down from the ground level and filled with clean gravel. Various courses of concrete blocks were then laid down and clipped to the same level to provide a uniform surface (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). The use of sand layers in the making of the foundation was mainly to add resiliency to the building support systems since sand absorbs shock vibrations and distributes weight effectively. The foundation at the center where Cathedral de Saint Miriam is laid consisted mainly of one and a half meter layer of gravel and sand that is topped by a stone layer and contained within the outer stone lining.

Roofing and Lighting

Roof of the Columbus Lighthouse was mainly made of flat concrete with no supportive pillar on either side. Construction of the roof was benefitted by the fact that by the time it was being laid, the engineers tasked with the construction had learned the concept of spanning large spaces with sandstone slabs. Larger spaces between the blocks were mostly covered with wooden ceilings.


Even though there was the lack of electricity, the Lighthouse still has a unique power system that consists of approximately 149 xenon sky track search lights and a beam of 70 watts that can be seen from almost 40 miles (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). Besides, the architect used clerestory windows to increase illumination during the day. The central part, which was raised, was mainly lined with grilled windows. Furthermore, high openings of the building enable better penetration of sunlight into the building, while ensuring there are enough conservation and secrecy in the place where the remains of Columbus have been placed. Other ventilation and lighting styles that were used in the building include piercing of square holes and other slits made in particular angles on the roof slabs to allow daylight into the monument through the small holes.


The monument floor was mainly made of concrete floor slabs that were created from the same stones that were used on the walls of the buildings. However, the inner area in which Columbus’ remains were placed was made of colored stone pavements (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). The entrance to the chamber was designed with a special pavement that was paved with red blocks of granite laced with limestone along its sides. These aspects were mainly done to provide an extra emphasis on the value and heritage of the building.

Tools and Equipment

In the process of extracting and dressing the building blocks, the main tools that were used include metal levers, chisel that was mainly used for smoothening of the block surfaces for uniformity, and pointed picks of hard bronze or stones. In the construction process, tools such as shovels and mud brick ramps were used by workers in the placing of the blocks and leveling. Other tools include freestone picks, hammers, bolt and wedges, quarry wedge, and iron hoop that were main tools used by the masons at the construction site (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). The joiners’ tools included screwdrivers for joining wooden ceilings, augers for boring holes, blocks, cut saws, iron paint cans with brushes, forehammer, and flooring stabs among others.

Labor Force

The official statistics of the Dominican Republic states that the country’s labor force had grown to approximately 2.8 million by the year 1988 when the construction of the Columbus Lighthouse was in progress. The growth was equivalent to about 74% of the whole country’s economically active citizens (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). Thus, at the time the unemployment rate stood at 26% (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). In 1980, there was a shift in the unemployment trend with the entrance of over 80,000 workers into the job market with 20 percent joining construction industries that involved projects such as the construction of the Columbus Lighthouse (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). Besides, the failure by the Spanish to force native Americans in the Dominican Republic into slavery prompted the import of African slaves from the Caribbean colonies (Krohn‐Hansen, 2001). The first slaves to arrive in the Dominican Republic were sold to the people of Santo Domingo. Apart from being deployed into various areas such as sugar cane plantations, most of these slaves provided labor during the earlier stages of the construction of the Columbus Lighthouse. Other aspects of labor were derived from various engineers who were involved in the overall construction of the monument.

Modern Projects

The Columbus Lighthouse was designed and built in an era that had not embraced a lot of factors such as technology. The architect mainly used traditional aspects of making his design and the masons who were involved in building the monument used outdated methods in the construction. The whole process of building of such a project would greatly vary today. In the first instance, the aspect of building such a project would fall under modern architecture. The term modern architecture refers to the modernist movement after the 20th century with various efforts such as the efforts to bring together underlying principles of the architectural design through the advancement of technology and modernization of the current society (Gifford, Hine, Muller, Reynolds, & Shaw, 2000). One of the most important factors in modern architecture is that of technology. Technology has virtually changed every aspect of today’s construction right from designing the plan to modeling or choosing tools, equipment, and materials that are used for the building purpose. Unlike the time of building of the Columbus Lighthouse when architects like Cleave used their bare hands for coming up with designs, advancement in technology enables such artists to make their design using modern sources such as a computer or architectural software gadgets (Gifford et al., 2000). In today’s world, architects would find various platforms where they can research the type of design that best suits a particular monument and make further inquiries on how they can advance the design through the use of the internet. Therefore, the design they would produce for such a project would be the one that is well researched in advance and that integrates every professional opinion before being presented for verification. Technology in architecture has further led to inventions and innovation of new construction methods and techniques (Gifford et al., 2000). Technology has ensured that exact specifications for constructions are produced and modern tools are involved into the construction of monuments.

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If such a project was built today, apart from the concrete roof slab that was commonly used at the time, the monument would have modern roofing tiles that are created and designed to resist all types of weather. Moreover, the buildings wall would be made from concrete blocks and reinforced with metal steel in between the blocks to ensure strength and stability of the wall. Creation of uniformity on the surface of blocks would be done using the modern leveling machine that ensures there is no block out of place unlike the use of chisel in the old times. Another aspect that would change if the same project was built today is the aspect of shipping working materials to the working site. In today’s world, various means of transportation such as trucks and other heavy load vehicles would transport materials from long-distance places to the construction site. Furthermore, there is a great advancement in certain infrastructures such as roads and communication that would enable access to raw materials that could not be accessed in the past. The modern method that could be applied in the construction includes the use of modern flat slabs. In this method, the slabs are quickly constructed due to a simple and minimized framework. Early flying and striking frameworks become essential in achieving a rapid turnaround. The application of the fabricated services can further be reduced due to uninterrupted zones of services below the slab of the floor (Gifford et al., 2000).

The flat slabs further help in saving the time of construction as they place no particular restriction on horizontal services or partitioning position. Another modern construction method that would be used today on such a project includes the use of an insulated concrete framework. The system that is used to produce some of the best buildings of the modern times consists of a twin wall that is composed of an expanded polystyrene panels or concrete blocks that are built up rapidly to form a framework for the building walls. The framework is then filled sufficiently with ready mixed concrete from a factory that is of high quality in order to create a robust structure like a monument (Gifford et al., 2000). The polystyrene blocks that are expanded then remain to provide thermal insulations, while the concrete core provides the monument with good insulation and robustness.

Today’s foundation of the project would rely on the precast system of the foundation. In this aspect, the foundation of the monument will be made of high quality concrete piles that are connected. The system of construction of the foundation will further enhance the aspect of productivity in bad weather conditions and reduce the rate of excavation, especially when the building stays for long (Gifford et al., 2000). Finally, the aspect of technology in today’s building process will ensure that the monument that is constructed integrates both cultural and national values of the people living in the given country. Therefore, it is vital to say that the aspect of carrying out similar building projects in today’s world would revolve mainly around the aspect of technology in designing the model of the monument and using technological modern tools and equipment. The modern aspect of construction requires a lot of research both regarding location, significance to the people of the area, and economic value that the given monument might bring to the inhabitants of the given area,

The Columbus Lighthouse was a very technical and important monument to the Dominican Republic’s people. Apart from conserving the remains of the great explorer Columbus, the monument was also seen as a museum that preserved the national culture and heritage. The construction of the monument was in line with major specifications and envisioned the use of quality materials in the process of making walls, floors, and roof. The modern building process would require much more advanced processes to construct a similiar monument. The aspect of technology will be very vital as discussed and the process of designing a model will not only be an individual architect’s duty, but a collective duty that involves sound consultation and research. Modernization has further opened up different parts of the world in which expertise and raw materials that are not available locally can be shipped to the site conveniently. Furthermore, modern transportation and good infrastructure have opened up areas where resourceful raw materials can be accessed and used to produce quality monuments. The Columbus Lighthouses therefore not only conserves the culture of the Dominican Republic’s people, but also provides a framework for constructing modern monuments.

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