Old Panama (World Heritage)

By | September 9, 2021

After the destruction of old Panama, Panama Viejo, in 1671 by the English privateer Henry Morgan , the city was rebuilt a few kilometers away on the Pacific. The ruins and the old town of Panama with its bastion, the cathedral and the monasteries as well as the Salón Bolívar are impressive testimonies to Central American history.

Old Panama: Facts

Official title: Panamá Historic District, Salón Bolívar and Panamá Viejo Archaeological Sites
Cultural monument: first European settlement on the Pacific coast of America, built on a rocky peninsula surrounded on three sides by the sea; with the Mano de Tigre bastion, the five-aisled cathedral (consecrated in 1796), the monasteries of La Merced, San Felipe, San José and San Francisco and the Salón Bolívar, the former chapter house of the Franciscan monastery
Continent: America
Country: Panama
Location: Panama
Appointment: 1997, extension 2003
Meaning: an old town mix of Spanish, French and early American style elements; Place of efforts to establish a permanent multinational continental congress

Old Panama: History

1519 Foundation of Panama by the Conquistador Pedrarias Dávila; Establishment of the Real Audiencia
1621 earthquake
1644 City fire
1671 Destruction by privateers around Sir Henry Morgan (around 1635–88); following construction of today’s historical district
1672 After the treaty between Spain and England, Morgan was transferred to England to try him for the destruction of Panama
1826 Establishment of a continental congress on the initiative of Simón Bolívar (1783–1830), called »El Libertador«
until 1830 Bolívar’s unsuccessful efforts to unify the Greater Colombia Confederation (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama)
1904 in the Franciscan monastery seat of the Legislative Assembly

La Reina del Océano Pacífico

“Queen of the Pacific Ocean” was the decorative epithet of the first Spanish port city on the Pacific Ocean, of which only ruins are evidence today. But when the setting sun bathes Panama Viejo in red-yellow light, the complex still gives an idea of ​​its formerly majestic splendor.

For a century and a half, old Panama was the transshipment point for sea trade goods in the Pacific destined for Spain. And it was from here that the Spanish expeditions to Central and South America started. In the Casas Reales, the royal houses of the Real Audiencia, the Spanish governor lived, Spanish judges spoke law and, as Spanish officials, administered the revenue of the crown from all commercial transactions in the region.

The “golden Panama” seemed impregnable for a century and a half thanks to its mighty fortifications on the sea side facing the Pacific. Its conquest by privateers under the command of Henry Morgan, who years later was knighted by King Charles II , therefore took place from the land side. Morgan’s people looted and pillaged, but above all they destroyed a large part of the city and the myth of its impregnability.

In the same year Panama was rebuilt on the peninsula of San Felipe, eight kilometers to the west, partly from the hewn stones of the original Panama Viejo. Among other things, the impressive facade of the Iglesia de La Merced and the gilded baroque altar of the Parroquia de San José were brought over completely from old Panama in 1680. In the chessboard-like colonial Panama, the colonial architecture of Spanish sacred buildings dominates. Their ornamental facades are particularly impressive in green spaces. In one of these squares, the Plaza Bolívar, the Convento de San Francisco was built in 1678, a monastery in which later the first Pan-American congress under Simón Bolívar should meet. The glorious general of the South American War of Independence developed plans for an Ibero-American federation in front of the delegates from the Spanish-American states who were present. Although none of the treaties signed at the time was ratified, the Pan-American idea that was drafted in what is now known as the “Salón Bolívar” has lost none of its visionary power to the present day.

It did not take long for new world historical events to leave their architectural mark on Panama. The mid-19th century California gold rush caused many North Americans to migrate from the east to the west coast. The west coast with the Ferrocarril de Panama could be reached relatively quickly via the Isthmus of Panama. However, since changing and reloading on both sides of the Isthmus Railway was time-consuming and arduous, the Frenchman Ferdinand Marie Lesseps drafted the plan for a lock-free canal, the construction of which began in 1881, but was discontinued years later due to financial problems. The canal was not completed until decades later by the USA, whose President Roosevelt had previously initiated Panama’s independence from Colombia.

With the canal, the new importance of the city between the two oceans also grew, to which American and French business people were increasingly drawn. The Grand Hotel was built on the south side of the Plaza de la Independencia in 1875. In the year it was built, it was considered the “most beautiful between San Francisco and Cape Horn”. Nine years later, opposite the baroque cathedral, the Hotel “Central” was built, at that time one of the most luxurious hotels in Central America. Authorities and art institutions are now housed in the buildings of early American and French-Caribbean architecture from those days. Visit beautypically.com for Panama as a tourist country.

In 2003 the World Heritage Site was expanded to include the archaeological site of Old Panama. Panama City has long been a rapidly growing boom town with modern high-rise buildings, shopping malls and hotel complexes. The building frenzy is now also threatening the historic city center, which has developed into a popular tourist attraction. The construction of a four-lane bypass road is planned to lead around the old town. It is still unclear what effects this will have on the World Heritage Site.

Old Panama (World Heritage)