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Hispaniola (from Spanish, La Española) is a major island in the Caribbeanmarker, comprising Haitimarker and the Dominican Republicmarker. It is located between the islands of Cubamarker to the west, and Puerto Rico to the east, directly within the hurricane belt. Hispaniola is perhaps most famous for marking the first European colonies in the New World, colonies founded by Christopher Columbus on his voyages in 1492 and 1493. It is the tenth most populous island in the world, and the most populous in the Americas. It is the 22nd largest island in the world.

Names of the island

The island bears various Amerindian names that supposedly originated from the indigenous Taíno that once populated the island. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo and Bartolomé de las Casas documented that the island was called Haití ("Mountainous Land") by the Taíno inhabitants. Peter Martyr d'Anghiera added another name, Quizqueia (supposedly "Mother of all Lands") however later research shows that the word doesn't seem to have derived from the original Arawak language.

Although Haití was the Taíno name verified to be used by the Amerindians on the island and was subsequently used by all three historians, evidence suggests that it probably was not the Taíno name of the whole island. Haití was the Taíno name of a region in what is now the northeastern section of present day Dominican Republic (now known as Los Haitises). In the oldest documented map of the island, created by Andrés de Morales, that region is named Montes de Haití ("Haiti Mountains"). Las Casas apparently named the whole island Haití on the basis of that particular region ; d'Anghiera said that the name of one part was given to the whole island..

In the present day both terms are used to refer to their respective countries. The name "Haïti" was adopted as the official name of the republic of the same namemarker by Haitian revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines as an ode of tribute to the Amerindian predecessors. The word Quisqueya (from Quizqueia) is used to refer to the Dominican Republicmarker though it is used to refer to Haiti as well, same goes for the taino word Bohio.

When Columbus took possession of the island, he named it La Española, meaning "The Spanish (Island)". When d'Anghiera detailed his account of the island in Latin, he translated the name as Hispaniola. Because Anghiera's literary work was translated into English and French in a short period of time, the name "Hispaniola" is the most frequently used term in English-speaking countries regarding the island in scientific and cartographic works.

The colonial terms Saint-Domingue and Santo Domingo are sometimes still applied when referring to the whole island when both names factually refer to their respective countries.


Christopher Columbus arrived at the island during his first voyage to America in 1492. During his arrival he founded the settlement of La Navidadmarker on the north coast of present day Haitimarker. On his return the subsequent year, following the disbandment of La Navidad, Columbus quickly founded a second settlement farther east in present day Dominican Republicmarker, La Isabelamarker, which became the first permanent European settlement in the Americas and today is the second largest Caribbean island.

The island was inhabited by the Taínos, one of the indigenous Arawak peoples. The Taino were at first tolerant of Columbus and his crew, and helped him to construct La Navidadmarker on what is now Môle Saint-Nicolasmarker, Haiti, in December 1492. European colonization of the island began earnestly the following year, when 1,300 men arrived from Spainmarker under the watch of Bartolomeo Columbus. In 1496 the town of Nueva Isabela was founded. After being destroyed by a hurricane, it was rebuilt on the opposite side of the Ozama River and called Santo Domingomarker. It is the oldest permanent European settlement in the Americas. The Taino population of the island was rapidly decimated, owing to a combination of disease and harsh treatment by Spanish overlords. In 1501, the colony began to import African slaves, believing them more capable of performing physical labor. The natives lacked immunity to smallpox and entire tribes were extinguished. From an estimated initial population of 250,000 in 1492, the Arawaks had dropped by 1517 to 14,000.

In 1574, a census taken of the Greater Antilles, reported 1,000 Spaniards and 12,000 African slaves on Hispaniola.

As Spain conquered new regions on the mainland of the Americas, its interest in Hispaniola waned, and the colony's population grew slowly. By the early 17th century, the island and its smaller neighbors (notably Tortugamarker) became regular stopping points for Caribbean pirates. In 1606, the king of Spain ordered all inhabitants of Hispaniola to move close to Santo Domingo, to avoid interaction with pirates. Rather than secure the island, however, this resulted in French, English and Dutch pirates establishing bases on the now-abandoned north and west coasts of the island.

In 1665, French colonization of the island was officially recognized by King Louis XIV. The French colony was given the name Saint-Domingue. In the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, Spain formally ceded the western third of the island to Francemarker. Saint-Domingue quickly came to overshadow the east in both wealth and population. Nicknamed the "Pearl of the Antilles," it became the richest and most prosperous colony in the West Indies and one of the wealthiest in the world, cementing its status as the most important port in the Americas for goods and products flowing to and from Europe.


Hispaniola is the second-largest island in the Caribbeanmarker (after Cubamarker), with an area of 76,480 km². The island of Cuba lies 80 km to the northwest across the Windward Passagemarker; to the southwest lies Jamaicamarker, separated by the Jamaica Channelmarker. Puerto Rico lies east of Hispaniola across the Mona Passagemarker. The Bahamasmarker and Turks and Caicos Islands lie to the north.

Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico are collectively known as the Greater Antilles. The Greater Antilles are made up of continental rock, as distinct from the Lesser Antilles, which are mostly young volcanic or coral islands.

The island has five major mountain ranges: The Central Range, known in the Dominican Republic as the Cordillera Central, spans the central part of the island, extending from the south coast of the Dominican Republic into northwestern Haiti, where it is known as the Massif du Nord. This mountain range boasts the highest peak in the Antilles, Pico Duartemarker at 3,087 meters (10,128 ft) above sea level. The Cordillera Septentrionalmarker runs parallel to the Central Range across the northern end of the Dominican Republic, extending into the Atlantic Oceanmarker as the Samaná Peninsula. The Cordillera Central and Cordillera Septentrional are separated by the lowlands of the Cibao Valley and the Atlantic coastal plains, which extend westward into Haiti as the Plaine du Nord (Northern Plain). The lowest of the ranges is the Cordillera Oriental, in the eastern part of the country.

The Sierra de Neiba rises in the southwest of the Dominican Republic, and continues northwest into Haiti, parallel to the Cordillera Central, as the Montagnes Noires, Chaîne des Matheux and the Montagnes du Trou d'Eau. The Plateau Central lies between the Massif du Nord and the Montagnes Noires, and the Plaine de l'Artibonite lies between the Montagnes Noires and the Chaîne des Matheux, opening westward toward the Gulf of Gonâve, the largest gulf of the Antilles.

The southern range begins in the southwestern most Dominican Republic as the Sierra de Bahoruco, and extends west into Haiti as the Massif de la Selle and the Massif de la Hotte, which form the mountainous spine of Haiti's southern peninsula. Pic de la Sellemarker is the highest peak in the southern range, the third highest peak in the Antilles and consequently the highest point in Haiti, at 2,680 meters (8,793 ft) above sea level. A depression runs parallel to the southern range, between the southern range and the Chaîne des Matheux-Sierra de Neiba. It is known as the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac in Haiti, and Haiti's capital Port-au-Princemarker lies at its western end. The depression is home to a chain of salt lakes, including Lake Azueimarker in Haiti and Lake Enriquillomarker in the Dominican Republic.


The climate of Hispaniola is generally humid and tropical. The island has four distinct ecoregions. The Hispaniolan moist forests ecoregion covers approximately 50% of the island, especially the northern and eastern portions, predominantly in the lowlands but extending up to 2100 meters elevation. The Hispaniolan dry forests ecoregion occupies approximately 20% of the island, lying in the rain shadow of the mountains in the southern and western portion of the island and in the Cibao valley in the center-north of the island. The Hispaniolan pine forests occupy the mountainous 15% of the island, above 850 meters elevation. The flooded grasslands and savannas ecoregion in the south central region of the island surrounds a chain of lakes and lagoons in the which the most notable include that of Lake Azueimarker and Trou Caïmanmarker in Haiti and the nearby Lake Enriquillomarker in the Dominican Republic.

See also


  1. "History of Smallpox - Smallpox Through the Ages". Texas Department of State Health Services.

External links

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