Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá

Panama’ Province, Panama’ District
N8 57 4 W79 32 26
Date of Inscription: 1997
Extension: 2003
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(vi)
Property : 57.4 ha
Buffer zone: 85 ha
Ref: 790bis
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Founded in 1519 by the conquistador Pedrarías Dávila, Panamá Viejo is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. It was laid out on a rectilinear grid and marks the transference from Europe of the idea of a planned town. Abandoned in the mid-17th century, it was replaced by a ‘new town’ (the ‘Historic District’), which has also preserved its original street plan, its architecture and an unusual mixture of Spanish, French and early American styles. The Salón Bolívar was the venue for the unsuccessful attempt made by El Libertador in 1826 to establish a multinational continental congress.

Panama City, the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the Pacific coast of the Americas, was founded in 1519, as a consequence of the discovery by the Spanish of the South Sea in 1513. The archaeological remains of the original settlement (known today as the Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo) include the Pre-Columbian vestiges of the Cuevan aboriginal occupation of the same name, and currently encompass a protected heritage site covering 32 ha. The settlement was a first rank colonial outpost and seat of a Royal Court of Justice during the 16th and 17th centuries when Panama consolidated its position as an intercontinental hub. Its growth in importance, as it profited from the imperial bullion lifeline, is reflected by the imposing stone architecture of its public and religious buildings.

During its 152 years of existence, the town was affected by slave rebellion, fire and an earthquake, but was destroyed in the wake of a devastating pirate attack in 1671. Since it was relocated and never rebuilt, Panamá Viejo preserves its original layout, a slightly irregular, somewhat rudimentary grid with blocks of various sizes.  There is archaeological evidence of the original street pattern and the location of domestic, religious and civic structures. The site is an exceptional testimony of colonial town planning; the ruins of its cathedral, convents and public buildings showcase unique technological and stylistic characteristics of its temporal and cultural context.  It also offers invaluable information on a variety of aspects of social life, economy, communications and the vulnerability of a strategic site within the geopolitical dynamics at the height of Spanish imperial power.

In 1673 the city was moved some 7.5 km southeast, to a small peninsula at the foot of Ancón hill, closer to the islands that were used as the port and near the mouth of a river that eventually became the entrance of the Panama Canal.  The relocated town, known today as Casco Antiguo or the Historic District of Panama, not only had better access to fresh water but could be fortified. The military engineers, moreover, took advantage of the morphological conditions that complemented the wall surrounding the peninsula, all of which prevented direct naval approaches by an enemy. The area within the walls had an orthogonal layout, with a central plaza and streets of different widths; outside the walls the suburb of Santa Ana had an irregular layout. There is a centrally-located main plaza (which was enlarged in the 19th century) and several smaller post-colonial plazas on the fringes. Most of the seaward walls of the colonial fortifications and parts of the landward bastions and moat survive. Several buildings within the District are identified as important for the country’s 17th-20th century heritage. Most outstanding are the churches, above all the cathedral with its five aisles and timber roof; San Felipe Neri, San José, San Francisco and especially La Merced with its well-preserved colonial timber roof. The Presidential Palace originally built in the late 17th century and partially reconstructed in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, is a revealing example of the transformations that characterize the Historic District as a whole. The House of the Municipality, the Canal Museum building (originally the Grand Hotel), the National Theatre, the Ministry of Government and Justice and the Municipal Palace are outstanding buildings of a more recent period. There are several exceptional examples of domestic architecture from the colonial period, above all the mid-18th century Casa Góngora, and also several hundred houses from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries that illustrate the transformation of living concepts from the colonial period to modern times. These include not only upper-class houses from the entire period, but also 2- to 5-floor apartment houses and wooden tenement buildings from the early 20th century erected to satisfy the requirements of a more stratified urban society

Particularly relevant is the Salón Bolivar, originally the Chapter Hall of the convent of San Francisco, which is the only surviving part of the 17th-18th century complex. The Salón Bolívar has special historical importance as the site of the visionary, but abortive attempt by Simon Bolivar in 1826 to establish what would have been the world’s first multinational and continental congress.

The present-day appearance of the Historic District is marked by a unique blend of 19th- and early 20th century architecture inspired in late colonial, Caribbean, Gulf Coast, French and eclectic (mostly Neo-Renaissance) styles. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, building styles evolved significantly, but spatial principles were fundamentally preserved. The Historic District’s layout, a complex grid with streets and blocks of different widths and sizes and fortifications inspired in late Renaissance treaties, is an exceptional and probably unique example of 17th-century colonial town planning in the Americas. These special qualities, which differentiate the Property from other colonial cities in Latin America and the Caribbean, resulted from the construction, first of a railroad (1850-55) and then a canal (1880-1914) that linked the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The construction of the canal, a landmark in the history the Americas and the world, had a tangible effect on the development of the Historic District and its surrounding area.

Criterion (ii):  Panamá Viejo is an exceptional testimony of town planning of its period and culture. It exhibits an important interchange of human values since it bore great influence on subsequent developments in colonial Spanish town planning, even in areas vastly different in climate and setting. The Historic District’s layout reflects the persistence and interchange of human values, which have been oriented towards interoceanic and intercontinental communications for several centuries at this strategic site on the Central American Isthmus.

Criterion (iv):  In both Panamá Viejo and the Historic District, house and church types from the 16th to the 18th centuries represent a significant stage in the development of Spanish colonial society as a whole. Panamá Viejo is an exceptional example of the period’s building technology and architecture. In the Historic District, surviving multiple-family houses from the 19th and early 20th centuries are original examples of how society reacted to new requirements, technological developments and influences brought about by post-colonial society and the building of the Panama Canal.

Criterion (vi):  The ruins of Panamá Viejo are closely linked to the European discovery of the Pacific Ocean, the history of Spanish expansion in the Isthmus of Central America and in Andean South America, the African diaspora, the history of piracy and proxy war, the bullion lifeline to Europe, the spread of European culture in the region and the commerce network between the Americas and Europe. The Salón Bolívar is associated with Simón Bolívar´s visionary attempt in 1826 to establish a multinational congress in the Americas, preceding the Organization of American States and the United Nations.

Suggested Bases:

Panama City is the capital of Panama. Sitting on the Pacific end of the Panama canal it has long been a point of transit for travelers and freight and these days Tocumen Airport has become the busiest in Central America and one of Latin America’s most important transfer hubs. Panama City is a very multicultural place, with large populations from many different parts of the world. Spanish is spoken by most, and many speak some form of English. Customer service is slowly improving, and surprisingly dismal in hotels. However, on the streets, Panamanians are for the most part extremely friendly and helpful and would love to give you some advice. There’s great shopping, from high-end stores in the malls around Paitilla and in the banking district around Via España, to veritable bargains around La Central (Central Avenue, now turned into a pedestrian walkway) and the Los Pueblos outdoor mall. You can also find many ethnic stores (mostly Chinese and Indian), in certain parts of the city [read more].

San Miguelito is a city and district (distrito) of Panamá Province in Panama. The population according to the 2000 census was 293,745; the latest official estimate (for 2019) is 375,409. The district covers an area of 50.1 km². San Miguelito district is completely enclaved within Panama District (which completely surrounds it) and it is included in the Panama City Metropolitan Area. Football player Luis Tejada was born in San Miguelito, and both Blas Pérez and Kevin Kurányi were once residents of the district. San Miguelito District is divided administratively into the following corregimientos: Corregimientos of San Miguelito; Amelia Denis de Icaza; Belisario Porras; José Domingo Espinar; Mateo Iturralde; Victoriano Lorenzo; Arnulfo Arias; Belisario Frías; Omar Torrijos; and Rufina Alfaro. International School of Panama is located in San Miguelito [read more].

Las Cumbres is a corregimiento in Panamá District, Panamá Province, Panama with a population of 32,867 as of 2010. Its population as of 1990 was 56,547; its population as of 2000 was 92,519. Neighborhoods in this sector include Villa Campestre, El Lago, Las Cumbrecitas, Las Glorietas, San Andrés, Altavista, El Rocio, Las Lajas, Villa Grecia and Colonial Las Cumbres [read more].

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