Old & Colonial Panama

The documentation of Panama’s history began when on 1501 the country was discovered by Rodrigo de Bastidas and Vasco Nunez de Balboa. In 1510 however the development of the first permanent settlement began. Its founder was Pedro Arias de Avila, making Panama City the first permanent European settlement in Pacific Coast. It was from Panama City that Balboa was able to plan the journey on which he eventually discovered the Pacific Ocean. The town became very important to Spain. It was used as a point of transfer for all wealth primarily gold and silver which left the colonies for Spain. In 1671 the English pirate Henry Morgan and a group of men in search of gold and silver invaded the city and the entire town was burnt down.

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In 1673 the development of a new town began a few miles south of Old Panama which is now known as Colonial Panama (Casco Viejo). This new city was founded by Antonio Fernandez de Cordoba and Mendoza. Plans were quickly put in place for the defense of the city. Walls were built around the new city to protect it from pirates and other dangerous enemies. Eventually the town of Colonial Panama had about five (5) streets divided into neat blocks. The town flourished without any further attacks. In the latter half of the 1800 the French settled in the area to begin construction of what is known today as the Panama Canal.

Present day restoration of the section of Panama City known as Colonial Panama or Casco Vieja began in 1977. Some capital granted by the Government of the Republic of Panama was used to restore buildings and monuments of historical significance to the country. In 1997 Colonial Panama was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Today the area is a major tourist site with museums, churches and other significant buildings.

Old Panama (Panama Vieja) with its historic structures was designated a Historical Monumental Complex in December 1976 by the Government of the Republic of Panama (Law 91 of 22 December 1976). The street pattern established by the Europeans is still in good condition and many buildings of historic significance are still visible. In 2003 UNESCO named Old Panama a World Heritage Site.

There are many places of interest in both Old and Colonial Panama. The area known as Colonial Panama has architecture influenced by the French who settle in the area in the late 1800’s whilst working on the Panama Canal. Strolling through the area there are many red brick streets, churches and museums. El Museo de Canal Interoceanico dedicated to the Panama Canal is in Colonial Panama. The Museo de la Historia de Panama dedicated to the history of the Republic of Panama is also in this area of the town. This museum contains artifacts and documentation of the country’s history. A very famous and important site in Colonial Panama is the San Jose Cathedral which houses the Golden Altar which was saved from the hands of pirates by a sharp priest.

Panama la Vieja too has lots of interesting place to visit. The Museo del Sitio Patronato Panama Viejo displays artifacts and other exhibitions significant to the first settlement in Panama. Very prominent is the Nuestra Señora de Asuncion which was constructed in 1519. The church was built in the shape of a cross. Restoration works is being carried out and upon completion the cathedral will be opened to the public for a small fee. The Visitors Centre in Old Panama houses a museum which has relics and objects from colonial days and also gives extensive information to tourists.

Both historical districts have great places to dine. Casco Viejo or Colonial Panama with its French influence has quaint, beautifully designed restaurants and bars. The food served in this area has a bit of French influence. Local and international dishes are also served. It is also customary to see vendors selling local juices, snacks, sweets, ice cream, snow cones and food from carts along the streets. Some say you have not visited a country if you have not dined like the locals. Nightlife in the historical district is limited to a few clubs in the Casco Viejo area.

The historical districts of Old and Colonial Panama offers insight into the history of the Republic of Panama. It gives an idea of the struggle of the Spanish to establish themselves in Panama and Central America. The historical districts have deep meaning to the population of Panama and restoration works will ensure that it remains with them for

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