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Panama: Panamá Viejo

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Panamá Viejo | Panama | Americas

[Visited: October 2016]

After figuring out it is not too far from where I am, I decide to walk from downtown Panama City towards the east on a quiet Sunday morning. I leave fancy skyscrapers behind, and when I see the first ruined remains of the old city of Panama, I know I have arrived at my destination. It is hot and humid, and I am sweating accordingly when I buy my ticket at the entrance. I decide to first explore the ruins and then the museum. I am at the remains of what was the first European settlement on the Pacific, an area already inhabited by indigenous people many centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. Once a flourishing city, it was attacked in 1671 by captain Morgan, who managed to conquer it against all odds. Subsequently, fires destroyed much of the buildings, the city was abandoned, and a new city erected at what now is the Casco Viejo.

Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): Belfry and ruins of the Cathedral seen from the south side

Once free to visit, the grounds of Panamá Viejo are now fenced off, with placards at all sights. I walk past remains of an old fortress at the far west side of the old city, to the ruins of the old church and convent of La Merced. It was probably used as a barracks for the pirates who conquered the city, and therefore not destroyed by fire. When a new church was erected in the Casco Viejo, the entire front side of the church was transferred there. Passing the church and convent of San Francisco, I arrive at the ruins of the hospital of San Juan de Dios, the Convent and church of the Nuns of the Conception. The church here is partly restored, giving a better idea of how the city may once have looked. Especially given the high number of churches, it must have been an impressive sight. I pass another convent on the way to the centre of town: the Plaza Mayor, now an open space, but once surrounded by majestic monuments.

Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): Ruins of the Casas Terrín, on the north side of the Plaza Mayor

On the north side, there are the ruins of the Casas de Terrín, built by one of the wealthy people of town. It occupied an entire block, and its front on the square had an arcade. You can still imagine the size of the building by the foundation visible. Part of the wall is standing, with a lovely arch, and some columns. Directly opposite is the main building of Panamá Viejo: the Cathedral. Most of the walls have disappeared, but the layout can still be seen. The belfry has been rebuilt. and I climb it for good views on all sides over Panamá Viejo and beyond. Originally, it was also used as a lookout point. Walking towards the sea, I come across ruins of the Casas Reales, in its heyday the centre of power of Panamá Viejo. A little to the north, walking past Casa Alarcón, I arrive at the large ruined area of the Convento de Santo Domingo, with some high walls still standing. Continuing north, I pass the Church and convent of San José, to arrive at the old Puente del Rey, the King's Bridge, parallel to which runs the contemporary Cincuentenario road. I walk back through the ruins of Panamá Viejo to finally explore the small museum, which gives background information about the fall of the city, as well as showing some of the many items found in excavations - jewellery, bones, keys, and more. A lot still remains hidden in the grounds of Panamá Viejo, and excavations continue. Who knows what finds will be added before my next visit to this fascinating corner of Panama City?

Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): Church and convent of San Francisco in the western part of Panamá Viejo
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): Casas Terrín seen from the top of the belfry of the Cathedral
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): Skull of woman with necklace surrounded by skulls of men
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): The King's Bridge, or Puente del Rey, built in the early 17th century, spans the Abajo river
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): Wall in ruins, remains of the Hospital de San Juan de Dios
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): The partly reconstructed ruins of the Iglesia de la Concepción
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): The Church and Convent of San José, slightly to the north of Panamá Viejo
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): Large reservoir to provide the old town of Panamá Viejo with water
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): Casa Alarcón, a private residence built in the 1640s
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): One of the buildings of the Casas Reales, once the centre of power in the city of Panamá
Picture of Panamá Viejo (Panama): Several items found in the ruins on display in the small museum

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