February 23, 2010

Panama Viejo - Old Panama.

    “Panama La Vieja” or “Panama Viejo” (Old Panama) is the name of the architectural vestiges of the first and oldest Monumental Historic Spanish city's on land that exists today. It was founded on the American Pacific coast on August 15, 1519 by Pedro Arias de Àvila (Pedrarias), commissioned by the Spanish Crown to establish a city that was the starting point for the conquest of North and South America. Pedrarias was the first governor of the city and on September 15, 1521, Panama received by royal decree the title of City and Coat of Arms granted by Charles I of Spain.
   The city received the name “Panama” because it was seated on an Indians’ fishing village that was called Panama, and in their dialect the word means abundance of fish and butterflies, and a green, leafy tree with the same name.
     For its strategic location, Panama La Vieja became an important port through which much gold and silver came from Peru and other places in America to Spain, and was also the port that received the goods coming from Spain to the colonized territories.
     The city was sacked in 1671 by English pirates, led by Henry Morgan. They reached the coast of Panama from the Atlantic and crossed the isthmus to reach the city. They didn’t arrive in their boats as the tales and stories tell. In addition, pirates would have had to go to Cape Horn, Argentina, and navigate the entire Pacific coast of South America to Panama. And if they did, they could not have landed directly in the port city protected by mangroves and a shallow coast.
     By safety of the inhabitants and city’s properties, Don Juan Perez de Guzman ordered the evacuation of the city and ordered to fire powder deposits causing a huge explosion and burning throughout the city. The city was abandoned by its inhabitants leaving their dilapidated structures and these being forgotten. The city was moved a few miles further west, and it is what we know today as “Casco Antiguo de la Ciudad de Panama” (Panama Old Town). In another post I will tell you all about it.
     Currently, the place is an archaeological site managed by Patronato de Panama Viejo (PPV). The administration has been responsible for preserving the structures still standing that can be enjoyed by future Panamanians and tourists.
     The tower of the Cathedral is one of the structures that is striking and is a symbol and image of the country abroad. In the interior of the tower was built a spiral staircase where you can see in each level until the belfry the growth of Panama City through each of its windows.


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