The Dominican Republic’s first wax museum, and the Caribbean’s second, was inaugurated this week in Santo Domingo. You won’t see Rihanna, Bob Marley, or foreign celebrities at this one. The Juan Pablo Duarte Wax Museum honors the one individual it is named after: one of the three Founding Fathers of the Dominican Republic, and main architect of Dominican independence.

Understandably the most beloved individual in the DR, followed by the Mirabal Sisters, Duarte fought numerous foreign interests–including Haiti–to gain independence and sovereignty for his country. You can’t go into any major town or city in the DR and not see a main street, avenue, or major park named after him.

The new Museo de Cera Juan Pablo Duarte–located at the national hero’s former home in the Colonial City–opens to the public this coming Tuesday, March 21, 2017. It was first proposed to the government in 2013, but was finally approved last year, and the wax figures created within six months. I got lucky and showed up impromptu at the museum on Friday, and they let me in for a private tour. I snapped the images in this post with my iPhone; when I return one day with the SLR, they will be replaced.

Part One: Duarte’s History, from Birth to Independence

The first floor of the museum begins with wax figures depicting Duarte’s birth, leading to his childhood–when he witnessed the Haitian invasion in 1822–and continuing into his adulthood.  As you walk along red walls and an air-conditioned, dim lit corridor, you’ll make stops at each key event in Duarte’s life and in DR history. You’ll follow his trajectory in obtaining independence for the DR, from his studies in Europe–from which he returned inspired with ideas from the French Revolution–to resisting those against an independent DR, all the way to his exile to Venezuela for over 20 years, where he died.

An eight-year old Duarte looks on with his mother as Haitians invade Santo Domingo in 1822.
Duarte serenading his fiance–he played several instruments, including the piano and flute.

This museum is a highly educational and worthwhile endeavor for students, families, and Dominicans who want to remember and honor the achievements of their national hero. And frankly, it’s refreshing to see a wax museum dedicated to a national hero.

Part Two: Duarte’s Home Life

On the second floor of the museum, up a short series of steps, is Duarte’s former home where he grew up and lived with his parents, sister, and brother. The home life of the hero is recreated, with family members in various areas of two spacious living rooms. This is my favorite part of the museum, perhaps because the wax figures are are out in the open and not behind glass (the ground floor ones are protected because crowds and children tend to touch). This gives the home a realistic feel. Most of the furniture pieces date from the 19th century.

Duarte’s family home life on the second floor of the wax museum.
Duarte’s parents.

Last but not least, there’s a gorgeous Spanish courtyard you shouldn’t miss.

The perfect DR-lover selfie spot in the courtyard.

At the end of the tour, I left the museum feeling like I wanted to raise my fist and shout: Que Viva La Republica Dominicana! 

*****

Calle Isabela Catolica #308, corner of Calle Restauracion. The museum officially opens its doors to the public on Tuesday, March 21. The entrance fee hasn’t formally been announced but will likely be RD$200 for locals (children don’t pay), and US$5 for tourists. It includes audio headphones (in English or Spanish).

To learn more about Dominican history, consult the Background chapter in the new edition of Moon Dominican Republic (2016).

Lebawit Lily Girma

A former corporate attorney, Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel writer, photographer, and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for US-publisher Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic. Originally from Ethiopia, Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–fluent in four languages, she has lived in eight countries besides the U.S., including Belize, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Her articles and photography focusing on the Caribbean region have been published in AFAR Magazine, CNN, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, and others. She is the recipient of the 2016 Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

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