Results 1-4of 4 Reviews
April 1, 2010
From journal Panama City - Exploring the city's rich and diverse history
by Jose Kevo
May 14, 2007
From journal Blue Bayou; the Visionary's Wager
February 24, 2002
First settled in 1519, Old Panama was the first Spanish community on the New World’s Pacific Coast. After British pirate Henry Morgan sacked and burned the city in 1671, Spain rebuilt it on a new, more easily defended site six miles away, in what is now called ‘Colonial Panama’ or Casco Viejo.
Though the original Panama was a relatively large community, it was mostly built of wood --- all that remains at the Panama Viejo historic monument are ruins of the few stone or masonry buildings: the Cathedral, the ‘Town Hall’, a 1640’s-era mansion that once served as the Bishop’s residence, a convent, and two houses built by one of the era’s wealthiest families. All are spread throughout a large park, as noteworthy for magnificent trees as for history: In good sunlight, the juxtaposition of stark stone ruins against rich green foliage can make for dramatic photograpy.
Don’t miss the small museum near the park entrance; it contains a large scale model of Old Panama as it was thought to have appeared in the pre-Morgan 1600’s. A 6-7 minute taped narration, available in English, guides you through the community’s history and sudden demise. There are also many archaeological artifacts, including human remains. Admission is free with your park ticket, which costs U.S. $2.
If you’re looking for a gift for someone back home, also spend some time touring the native craft market adjoining the museum and park; you’ll find some necklaces, bracelets and hand-made textiles that are far superior to the usual tourist junk.
Panama la Vieja has been a National Historical Site since 1976 and is currently operated by a non-profit organization advised by the Kiwanis Club, National Institute of Culture, the tourism bureau and a local bank. It’s a $2 taxi ride from the Cesar Park Hotel and Casino, $3 from the more centrally-located Radisson.
A Safety Issue
Before it became a National site, a large squatters’ settlement developed along its north side. Although Panama City is generally considered safe for tourists, this area is NOT. In fact, it added a very useful new word to my Spanish vocabulary: malientes.
As I sat resting after a walk to the park’s far edges, a policeman appeared at my side and pointed to my camera. ‘No foto’, he said, pointing to the sqautters’ hovels. I wondered why --- would the city be embarrassed? Then I noticed that four husky young men had gathered in an area I’d just left. ‘Malientes,’ said the cop. ‘Malientes.’ When he slowed his Spanish down enough for me to understand some words, I realized why no photos: If the bad guys saw my camera, it would become theirs. They were Malientes.
From journal Panama: Much More than a Canal
Much of It dates from 1673, two years after pirates destroyed the original Panama.
(Don’t confuse Casco Viejoanama Viejo: One is still a vibrant community; the other nothing but stone-and-masonry ruins in a partially-restored historical park.)
Travel writers generally consider the Old City to be a ‘must-see’. I’m certainly glad I spent a few hours there.
Approaching from coastal highway and seafood market, the Presidential Palace complex is the first of the area’s major attractions that you’ll encounter --- and also one of the most appealing. It’s a sparkling white mansion in the Moorish style, easy to approach but, due to its proximity to the seawall, difficult to photograph. I found it heavily guarded, with an armed policeman on every nearby corner, but each one politely waved me by. I found a small, quiet park overlooking the bay, less than a hundred yards from the President’s front door; guards appeared willing to let me linger there as long as I cared to. The Palace was originally built in 1673 and reconstructed in 1923.
If you’re carrying a camera, I’d suggest showing it to each guard and asking, se permite?. It IS permitted, but they appeared pleased that I’d asked first.
The majestic Catedral Metropolitano, consecrated in 1798, faces an equally-inviting plaza where Panama’s Declaration of Idependence was signed. Three of the bells from the Cathedral’s tower still survive. Nearby is the 1671-built San Jose Church, said to be reknowned for its golden altar.
The old a Merced Church along the Avenida Central was just discharging Sunday worshippers as I walked by. Out of deference to them --- and to my 100-speed film --- I refrained from going inside. I did, however, notice one disarmingly modern note: the nave was outlined in neon lights!
Museums and the attractive, though relatively plain, Municipal Theater are at the far end of the central avenue. Don’t miss the Paseo de Esteban, a block-long pedestrian promenade shielded from the sun by flower-bedecked arches. It’s a great place to relax before starting the walk back.
The easiest way to enjoy the Old City is by doing as I do: ‘Sightseeing by wandering around’. When you see an especially appealing side street, just turn down it.
I’ll have to admit some disappointment over the diffence between some of the breathless descriptions found in a few of the tourist guides with what I perceived to be reality: For every centuries-old architectural gem, there were two or three blocks of old balconied-but-battered New Orleans-like apartment buildings reminiscent of the seedier streets beyond the French Quarter.
That said, it would have a shame to have been in Panama City without lingering here for a few hours.