|The old historic town of Panama City is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mainly because it's by far of course the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast. But since the city was moved after its initial destruction, the actual UNESCO site includes two distinct locations, spread apart by 7,5 km, of different nature.|
What most tourists will visit is the
Casco Viejo, or 'historic district' on the SouthWest part of the
city, and close to the entrance of the Canal. But there's also
another location to visit if you're really interested in history...
the site is the archeological site of Panama Viejo.
It's well arranged, with lots of
information and details. At the time of my visit however, the museum
was closed because of a natural gas issue and it was without
electricity. I did walk all the site, reading the very interesting
information displayed in both Spanish and English on most of the
boards located along the way and inside some structures. This is
really an archeological site, with ruins and diggings are still being
done to excavate many structures or artefacts. The ruins are
generally in very poor condition, because they were abandoned to
themselves when they moved the city of Panama in 1671, 152 years
after its 1529 foundation by conquistador Pedrarías Dávila. The
close-by ocean took its toll on the buildings, but you can still see
the layout of the streets and some important remnants of buildings
(mostly religious). It's free to visit and once you figured out how
to reach it, it's very accessible, since it's located on a tight
strip of land between a major road and the ocean.
Some of the ruins of Panama Viejo
The most visually appealing part though
is the Casco Viejo, which is the relocation site of the city in 1673.
There you can see nice examples of the Spanish architecture mixed
with French and American ones (during their respective involvement
with the construction of the Canal). The architecture in that part
is really stunning. The big problem though is that I'd say about 20%
of the buildings are empty and simply present a facade... all their
inner guts have been destroyed. So, you can see the sky from the 2nd
or 3rd floor window... that's why so many plants (and
trees!) now call these structures home.
Another 20% of the buildings are now
being repaired, so the whole area is a giant construction site. In a
few years, that should look much better. The facades will be
preserved but the interiors will be modern. The rest of the
buildings (50%-60%) have been maintained over the years and still
represent their original plans (at least on the outside of course).
There are very few non-historic buildings in that part of town, so,
walking those streets, you feel like you were in 17th or
early 18th century.
It's not the most beautiful colonial
city I've seen, but the mix of architecture (French influence is
major), makes it pretty unique, a well-deserved addition done to the
list in 1997.
Condition of many buildings in Casco Viejo
This site might be placed on the danger
list in the next few months by the UNESCO however. Why? Because of
poor conservation policies and strategies by the country. In April,
they opened an ocean highway stretch going around Casco Viejo.
First, it totally destroys the view over the old city by having this
brand new highway circling it. Second, there were many other options
examined and the UNESCO strongly recommended to go with a tunnel
(amongst the other projects) that would have caused less impact on
the site. I've been on that highway around the historic district...
there's a nice sidewalk/bike lane on the inner side of the look.
It's well created with benches and plants. It's a great piece of
urban design and it does give you a good view of the historic
district... but at the same time, it impacts seriously the
authenticity of the location and I'm sure the construction of it
wasn't done without causing any problems with the structures of some
buildings. Panama also has issues protecting his other historical
site on the other side of the isthmus, from Colón to Portobelo,
which is already on the danger list.