The most compelling attraction in all of Santiago is the Centro León, 27 de Febrero 146, just east of Avenida Estrella Sadhalá in Villa Progreso (Tues–Sun 10am–7pm; RD$100, Tues free; 582-2315, www.centroleon.org.do). Opened in 2003, this outstanding, multifaceted cultural centre is housed in an ostentatiously postmodern building – all concrete, glass and angles – surrounded by neat gardens dotted with palms. It’s a huge place, divided into four large sections. Section one is home to a museum of history and anthropology detailing the story of the Dominican peoples, examining the population’s various conflicts, ethnic diversity and growing sense of national identity, as well as the impact people have had on the country’s ecosystems and natural resources. The highlight is the remarkable collection of Taino artefacts, including a host of intact aboriginal necklaces, cemi statuettes, decorated pots, daggers, axe-heads and vomit sticks, used to induce vomiting after a large banquet.
Section two is devoted to a superb Dominican art collection. Notable works include local Modernist masterpieces like Jaime Colson’s folk-Cubist Hombre con Pipa and Celeste Woss y Gil’s imposing self-portrait Autorretrato con Cigarillo, as well as more abstract works such as Paul Guidicelli’s Expressionist depiction of a Vodú priest sacrificing a chicken, Brujo Disfrazado de Pájaro. The third section is set aside for the temporary exhibitions, concerts and film screenings that take place throughout the year, while the fourth is devoted to a display on the lives of the León Jimenes family, whose tobacco and alcohol wealth paid for the centre – they’re the owners of Aurora cigars and Presidente beer. The highlight here is the mock tobacco factory, set up to look like one from the turn of the twentieth century, where you can observe cigars being made and sample a stogie afterwards. In addition, the centre is home to a good café, pleasant gardens adorned with statues and a gift shop where you can buy replica Taino artefacts.