A Stroll Through Old Panama City, Part II: Casco Viejo

Today is the final post in an unplanned series of features on all things Panama. Over the past week I’ve covered everything from my experience at/on the Panama Canal to why Ecuador’s most famous export is called the ‘Panama’ hat.

The series began last Wednesday, when Part I of my Stroll Through Old Panama City took me to the Spanish settlement’s origins at Panama Viejo. Today my wanderings continue in the other half of the Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Casco Viejo from Ancon Hill (surrounded by its amazing bypass)

Casco Viejo from Ancon Hill (surrounded by its amazing bypass)

The Historic District of Panamá, more commonly called Casco Viejo (the Old Quarter), was founded in 1673, two years after Panama Viejo was destroyed following an attack by the pirate Captain Henry Morgan. Unlike its predecessor, much of this second Spanish settlement survives to this day. I spent a lovely couple of hours in the late afternoon being shown around this colonial gem of the New World by Nghiem of Panama Your Way.

A typical street on the edge of Casco Viejo

A typical street on the edge of Casco Viejo

As I mentioned last week, the ‘new’ location for Panama City was influenced by both military and practical reasons. Firstly, the site was easier to defend, a pretty important point, considering the fate of Panama Viejo.

Souvenir stands line part of Casco Viejo's old defences

Souvenir stands line part of Casco Viejo’s old defences

The obelisk stands near the tip of the old defensive walls in Plaza de Francia

The obelisk stands near the tip of the old defensive walls in Plaza de Francia

Plaza de Francia

Plaza de Francia

The French Embassy in Plaza de Francia

The French Embassy in Plaza de Francia

Secondly, the new location was closer to the entrance of the river that formed part of the route across the narrowest strip of land (or isthmus) between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. In the 20th Century, this river became part of the World’s most famous artificial waterway, the Panama Canal.

Sunset over the entrance of the Panama Canal, two miles distant, with Ancon Hill (right) and the Bridge of the Americas (left)

Sunset over the entrance of the Panama Canal, two miles distant, with Ancon Hill (right) and the Bridge of the Americas (left)

If you look carefully, you can see my ship, the Zaandam, moored just left of centre on the horizon

If you look carefully, you can see my ship, the Zaandam, moored just left of centre on the horizon

Modern Panama City from the Old Quarter

Modern Panama City from the Old Quarter

Like its predecessor, Casco Viejo was constructed on a grid system. At its heart was the Plaza Major (Main Square), which today goes my the name Plaza de la Independencia, overlooked by the impressive Metropolitan Cathedral.

Me in Plaza de la Independencia

Me in Plaza de la Independencia

The Metropolitan Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral

Ruins of the Convent of Santa Domingo, destroyed by fire in 1756

Ruins of the Convent of Santa Domingo, destroyed by fire in 1756

Santa Domingo's famous Arco Chato (Flat Arch)

Santa Domingo’s famous Arco Chato (Flat Arch)

Part of what makes Casco Viejo so culturally important is its diverse mix of colonial influences, from places such as the Caribbean, the Gulf Coast, France and, of course, Spain. It also preserves examples of how architectural styles evolved in this region between the 17th and 20th Centuries.

Calle la Oeste - the red bricks apparently indicate you're within the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Calle la Oeste – the red bricks apparently indicate you’re within the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Ruins of the Church of the Compania de Jesus, also destroyed by a fire, this time in 1781, and further damaged by an earthquake in 1882

Ruins of the Church of the Compania de Jesus, also destroyed by a fire, this time in 1781, and further damaged by an earthquake in 1882

Church of San Jose

Church of San Jose

Despite the success of the Panama Canal, Panama as a nation saw little economic benefit for almost a hundred years, until it took over running the waterway on December 31st, 1999. Consequently, much of Casco Viejo still has a slightly rundown and neglected feel, although this is changing.

Strolling along Avenida A

Strolling along Avenida A

Also on Avenida A (if I remember correctly!)

Also on Avenida A (if I remember correctly!)

Heading down Avenida Central

Heading down Avenida Central

I have to admit, the ramshackle look of some of the buildings adds a certain character

I have to admit, the ramshackle look of some of the buildings adds a certain character

Nghiem told us that a lot of investment is being channelled into the historic Old Quarter, of which there’s plenty of evidence. However, the renovation process is being done gradually, in part so that the whole district doesn’t become one huge building site. I’d love to go back in 10 or 15 years to see how the restoration of Casco Viejo comes along!

Buildings in need of a little TLC side-by-side with those already restored

Buildings in need of a little TLC side-by-side with those already restored

Hopefully, all Casco Viejo will one day look like this

Hopefully, all Casco Viejo will one day look like this

The Church of St Francis of Assisi, devastated by fires in 1737 and 1756, it was restored in 1998

The Church of St Francis of Assisi, devastated by fires in 1737 and 1756, it was restored in 1998

This post was inspired by Cee’s Which Way Challenge and Jo’s Monday walk.

Me on Avenida Central

Me on Avenida Central

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About Jaspa

Star of my own award-winning adventure novels, Jaspa's Journey. Geocaching addict & F1 fan. Adventure Journeyer & blogger extraordinaire. Check out my website: www.jaspasjourney.com And don’t forget to download the books and see what the buzz is all about!
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8 Responses to A Stroll Through Old Panama City, Part II: Casco Viejo

  1. Cee Neuner says:

    Another great series. I really like the reflections on the obelisk photo.

  2. restlessjo says:

    It looks awfully beat up, in a way that’s nothing like so picturesque as Cuba, but, as you show in those last couple of shots there’s heaps of potential, Jaspa. And I love your sunset shot. Thanks again for the share. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Podziemia | restlessjo

  4. Heyjude says:

    Not a place I’ll ever get to so it was nice to have a wander around with you all 🙂

  5. Pingback: The Real San Blas Islands, Panama | Jaspa's Journal

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