Panama Viejo Cathedral Tower
Our Taxi Driver assistant
Today the adventure was to the first founding site of Panama City. It was located on a native village (the tribe was called the Panama) by one of the Spanish conquistador’s in 1519. As it turned out they could not have found a poorer place to locate the city. The site did not have good water, it was not on a river (like the Spanish King had directed), could not be easily defended from attack, and was a cesspool of disease. How about that for urban planning? In the 1520’s and 1530’s Panama Viejo was the starting point of the expeditions to the Central and South Americas. The most famous was Francisco Pizarro’s to Peru.
For the next 160 years they struggled on at this location by adapting to the problems. They actually brought in drinking water in big jugs (the original bottled water?), dug drains to move off the rain water, constructed rain water cisterns, and built some significant stone buildings. The best ruins that remain are the churches and convents.
For many years the Spanish argued about moving the city to a better site. A catalyst for the move was the attack in 1671 by the English pirate Henry Morgan, who seized and destroyed the city, along with a great loss of life. The decision was then made to move the city to what is now known as Casco Viejo. Much of Casco Viejo was built with the stones and materials from the first city. The new city started with city walls and a defensible perimeter, thus protecting it right up to the present.
As vacationers we don’t really get an early start. The guide book suggests you get to the ruins by 9 a.m., as it gets very warm walking the old city between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Who are we to take such practical advice? We head out about 10:30 a.m. and thus spend two very hot hours exploring. Until recently the ruins of the first city had pretty much been ignored and had become covered with moss and trees to the point of hardly being recognizable. Around 1999 various interests came together to start restoration of the original city.
There is now a very nice visitor center which includes a museum of recovered artifacts, and the archeological center for ongoing restoration projects. After going through the museum we then spent a couple hours exploring the ruins. Various large Panamanian banks have invested in helping rebuild and restore some of the ruins. One of those occasional daily highlights occurred when we hailed a cab to get back home. The cab driver was obviously in charge of baby sitting today, so he had his darling little daughter helping drive today. Check out the photo above!