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Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-10-31 20:19:12 | Panama, Panama, Panama
Keywords: Colonial, UNESCO
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.

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

Casco 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.

Related posts:
Cathedral of León
León Viejo
Ouro Preto
Modern Ensemble of Pampulha


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