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Española (Spanish)
Hispaniola (French)
View of Haitian Landscape hispaniola.jpg
View from Hispaniola
La Española (orthographic projection).svg
Location Caribbean
Coordinates 19°N 71°W / 19°N 71°W / 19; -71Coordinates: 19°N 71°W / 19°N 71°W / 19; -71
Archipelago Greater Antilles
Area 76,480 km2 (29,530 sq mi)
Area rank 22nd
Coastline 3,059 km (1,900.8 mi)
Highest elevation 3,175 m (10,417 ft)[1]
Highest point Pico Duarte
Population 18,943,000[2] (as of 2005)
Density 241.5 /km2 (625.5 /sq mi)

Hispaniola (Spanish: Española; French: Hispaniola; Taíno: Ayiti[3]) is the 22nd-largest island in the world, located in the Caribbean island group, the Greater Antilles. It is the second largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba, the tenth-most-populous island in the world, and the most populous in the Americas.

The 76,480 square kilometres (29,530 sq mi) island is divided roughly 64/36 between two sovereign nations, the Dominican Republic (48,445 square kilometres (18,704 sq mi)), and Haiti (27,750 square kilometres (10,714 sq mi)). It is the site of the first European colonies founded by Christopher Columbus on his voyages in 1492 and 1493.[4][5]


Early map of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, c. 1639.


The island was called by various names by its native people, the Taíno Amerindians. When Columbus took possession of the island in 1492, he named it Insula Hispana, meaning "the Spanish island" in Latin[6] and La Isla Española, meaning "The Spanish Island", in Spanish.[7] Bartolomé de las Casas shortened the name to "Española", and when Pietro Martyr d‘Anghiera detailed his account of the island in Latin, he translated the name as Hispaniola.[7] Because Anghiera's literary work was translated into English and French in a short period of time, the name "Hispaniola" became the most frequently used term in English-speaking countries for the island in scientific and cartographic works.

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo and de las Casas documented that the island was called Haití ("Mountainous Land") by the Taíno. D'Anghiera added another name, Quizqueia (supposedly "Mother of all Lands"), but later research shows that the word does not seem to derive from the original Arawak Taíno language.[8] Although the Taínos use of Haití is verified and the name was 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 (now known as Los Haitises) in the northeastern section of the present-day Dominican Republic. 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;[9] d'Anghiera said that the name of one part was given to the whole island.[8]

The colonial terms Saint-Domingue and Santo Domingo are sometimes still applied to the whole island, although these names refer, respectively, to the colonies that became Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The name Haïti was adopted by Haitian revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines as the official name of independent Saint-Domingue, as a tribute to the Amerindian predecessors. Quisqueya (from Quizqueia) although used on both sides of the island is mostly adopted in the Dominican Republic.


Christopher Columbus inadvertently found the island during his first voyage across the Atlantic in 1492, where his flagship, the Santa Maria, sank after running aground on December 25. A contingent of men were left at an outpost christened La Navidad on the north coast of present-day Haiti. On his return the subsequent year, following the destruction of La Navidad by the local population, Columbus quickly established a second compound farther east in present-day Dominican Republic, La Isabela.

The island was inhabited by the Taíno, one of the indigenous Arawak peoples. The Taino were at first tolerant of Columbus and his crew, and helped him to construct La Navidad on what is now Môle Saint-Nicolas, Haiti, in December 1492. European colonization of the island began in earnest the following year, when 1,300 men arrived from Spain 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 Domingo. It is the oldest permanent European settlement in the Americas.

The Taíno population of the island was rapidly decimated, owing to a combination of new infectious diseases, to which they had no immunity, and murder by Spanish overlords. In 1503 the colony began to import African slaves, believing them more capable of performing physical labor. The natives had no immunity to European diseases, including smallpox,[10] With genocide of entire tribes rampant.[11] From an estimated initial population of 250,000 in 1492, 14,000 Arawaks had persevered by 1517.[12]

In 1574, a census taken of the Greater Antilles reported 1,000 Spaniards and 12,000 African slaves on Hispaniola.[13]

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 Tortuga) became regular stopping points for Caribbean pirates. In 1606, the government of Philip III ordered all inhabitants of Hispaniola to move close to Santo Domingo, to avoid interaction with pirates. Rather than secure the island, his action meant that French, English and Dutch pirates established their own bases on the abandoned north and west coasts of the island.

French map of Hispaniola by Nicolas de Fer

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 France.[14][15] 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, with a system of human enslavement used to grow and harvest sugar cane, during a time when demand for sugar was high in Europe. Slavery kept prices low and profit was maximized at the expense of human lives. It was an important port in the Americas for goods and products flowing to and from France and Europe.

With the treaty of Peace of Basel, revolutionary France emerged as a major European power. In the second 1795 Treaty of Basel (July 22), Spain ceded the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, later to become the Dominican Republic. French settlers had begun to colonize some areas in the Spanish side of the territory.

European colonists often died young due to tropical fevers, as well as from slave resistance in the late eighteenth century. When the French Revolution abolished slavery in the colonies on February 4, 1794, it was a European first,[16] and when Napoleon reimposed slavery in 1802 it led to a major upheaval by the emancipated black slaves.

Thousands succumbed to a yellow fever during the summer months and more than half of the French army died because of disease.[17] After the French removed the surviving 7,000 troops in late 1803, the leaders of the revolution declared the new nation of independent Haiti in early 1804.

Fearing the influence of a society that had successfully fought and won against their enslavers, the United States and European powers refused to recognize Haiti, the second republic in the western hemisphere. In addition, the US maintained an arms and goods embargo against the country during the years of its own conflict with Great Britain. France demanded a high payment for compensation to slaveholders who lost their property, and Haiti was saddled with unmanageable debt for decades.[18] It became one of the poorest countries in the Americas, while the Dominican Republic, whose independence was won via a very different route[18] gradually has developed into the largest economy of Central America and the Caribbean.


Topographic map of Hispaniola

Hispaniola is the second-largest island in the Caribbean (after Cuba), with an area of 76,480 square kilometers (29,530 sq mi), 18,704 square miles (48,440 km2)[19] of which is under the sovereignty of the Dominican Republic occupying the eastern portion and 10,714 square miles (27,750 km2)[5] under the sovereignty of Haiti occupying the western portion.

The island of Cuba lies 80 kilometers (50 mi) to the northwest across the Windward Passage; to the southwest lies Jamaica, separated by the Jamaica Channel. Puerto Rico lies east of Hispaniola across the Mona Passage. The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands lie to the north. Its westernmost point is known as Cap Carcasse.

Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico are collectively known as the Greater Antilles. The Greater Antilles are made up of continental rock.[citation needed]

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 Duarte at 3,087 meters (10,128 ft) above sea level. The Cordillera Septentrional runs parallel to the Central Range across the northern end of the Dominican Republic, extending into the Atlantic Ocean 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 Selle 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 (8,790 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-Prince lies at its western end. The depression is home to a chain of salt lakes, including Lake Azuei in Haiti and Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic.


Owing to its mountainous topography, Hispaniola’s climate shows considerable variation over short distance, and is the most varied of all the Antilles.[20]

Except in the Northern Hemisphere summer season, the predominant winds over Hispaniola are the northeast trade winds. As in Jamaica and Cuba, these winds deposit their moisture on the northern mountains and create a distinct rain shadow on the southern coast, where some areas receive as little as 400 millimetres (16 in) of rainfall and have semi-arid climates. Annual rainfalls under 600 millimetres (24 in) also occur on the southern coast of Haiti’s northwest peninsula and in the central Azúa region of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac. In these regions, moreover, there is generally little rainfall outside hurricane season from August to October and droughts are by no means uncommon when hurricanes do not come.[21]

On the northern coast, in contrast, rainfall may peak between December and February, though some rain falls in all months of the year. Annual amounts typically range from 1,700 to 2,000 millimetres (67 to 79 in) on the northern coastal lowlands;[20] there is probably much more in the Cordillera Septentrional, though no data exist.[speculation?]

The interior of Hispaniola, along with the southeastern coast centred around Santo Domingo, typically receive around 1,400 millimetres (55 in) per year with a distinct wet season from May to October. Usually this wet season has two peaks: one around May, the other around the hurricane season. In the interior highlands rainfall is much greater, around 3,100 millimetres (120 in) per year, but with a similar pattern to that observed in the central lowlands.[citation needed]

As is usual for tropical islands, variations of temperature are much less marked than with rainfall and depend only on altitude. Lowland Hispaniola is generally oppressively hot and humid, with temperatures averaging 28 °C (82 °F) with high humidity during the daytime and around 20 °C (68 °F) at night. At higher altitudes, temperatures fall steadily, so that frosts occur during the dry season on the highest peaks, where maxima are no higher than 18 °C (64 °F).[citation needed]


Haiti has 9 million inhabitants, the Dominican Republic, 9.6 million. Life expectancy is 61 years in Haiti, 73.7 years in the Dominican Republic. Literacy rate (over 15-years-old) is 52.9% in Haiti, 87% in the Dominican Republic.[22]


Personal income[edit]

The estimated annual per capita income is US$1,300 in Haiti and US$8,200 in Dominican Republic.[22]


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 2,100 meters (6,900 ft) 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 metres (2,790 ft) elevation. The flooded grasslands and savannas ecoregion in the south central region of the island surrounds a chain of lakes and lagoons in which the most notable include that of Lake Azuei and Trou Caïman in Haiti and the nearby Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic.[citation needed]

In Haiti, deforestation has long been cited by scientists as a source of ecological crisis; the timber industry dates back to French colonial rule.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Highest Elevation, CIA World Factbook
  2. ^ United Nations World Population Prospects (2008 edition). UN
  3. ^ Henley, Jon (January 14, 2010). "Haiti: a long descent to hell". The Guardian. Retrieved September 4, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Embassy of the Dominican Republic, in the United States". Retrieved February 27, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Central America and Caribbean: Haiti, CIA World Factbook
  6. ^ "Quam protinus Hispanam dixi": EPISTOLA DE INSULIS NUPER REPERTIS (Letter to Lord Raphael Sanchez, March 14, 1493).
  7. ^ a b McIntosh, Gregory C (2000). The Piri Reis Map of 1513. University of Georgia Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-8203-2157-8. 
  8. ^ a b Anglería, Pedro Mártir de (1949). Décadas del Nuevo Mundo, Tercera Década, Libro VII (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Editorial Bajel. 
  9. ^ Las Casas, Fray Bartolomé de (1966). Apologética Histórica Sumaria (in Spanish). Mexico: UNAM. 
  10. ^ "History of Smallpox – Smallpox Through the Ages". Texas Department of State Health Services.
  11. ^ Austin Alchon, Suzanne (2003). A pest in the land: new world epidemics in a global perspective. University of New Mexico Press. p. 62. ISBN 0-8263-2871-7. 
  12. ^ Lord, Lewis (January 21, 2007). "A Conqueror More Lethal Than the Sword". US News and World Report. 
  13. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1972). The Oxford History of the American People. New York City: Mentor. p. 71. ISBN 0-451-62600-1. 
  14. ^ "Hispaniola Article". Britannica.com. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  15. ^ "Dominican Republic 2014". Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  16. ^ Popkin, Jeremy D. (2008) Facing Racial Revolution: Eyewitness Accounts of the Haitian Insurrection. pp. 184–213. ISBN 0226675831
  17. ^ Bollet, A.J. (2004). Plagues and Poxes: The Impact of Human History on Epidemic Disease. Demos Medical Publishing. pp. 48–49. ISBN 1-888799-79-X. 
  18. ^ a b Diamond, Jared M. and Robinson, James A. (2011) Natural Experiments of History. pp. 126–128. ISBN 9780674060197
  19. ^ Central America and Caribbean: Dominican Republic, CIA World Factbook
  20. ^ a b Alpert, Leo (1941). "The Areal Distribution of Mean Annual Rainfall Over the Island of Hispaniola". Monthly Weather Review 69 (7): 201. doi:10.1175/1520-0493(1941)069<0201:TADOMA>2.0.CO;2. 
  21. ^ Camberlin, Pierre (2010). "More variable tropical climates have a slower demographic growth". Climate Research 41: 157. doi:10.3354/cr00856. 
  22. ^ a b Bello, Marisol (January 21, 2010). "Hispaniola comparison". USA Today. 

External links[edit]

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