Old Panama City
Panama City is surprisingly old - founded back in 1519. Originally it was Spanish of course. The Spaniards unloaded their Peruvian gold here, mule training it across the narrow isthmus to Portobelo where it was on-shipped back home.
This key role ensured the town’s susceptibility to pirate attack – and guess what? Pirates attacked. In 1671 Henry Morgan sacked and looted the place before destroying it with fire. This very oldest part of the city was never rebuilt. Today it is still a collection of ruins, a World Heritage site on the western fringes of the current city.
|Old Panama City: it’s a ruin. The cathedral tower, bottom-right, is the most impressive thing still standing, it has become a city icon.|
New Old Panama City
Instead of rebuilding the city fathers decided to move to a new site about 8 kilometres to the east, quite close to where the present day canal reaches the Pacific Ocean. This new city, now the Old Quarter, founded in 1673, is one of the fastest gentrifying areas I have seen anywhere in the world. Latter-day pirates, developers, have moved in and the poor are being unceremoniously moved on. But the developers are doing a nice job in this the city’s second World Heritage listed area. I reckon it will only be a few years and this part of town will rival Cartagena for its glossy presentation of Spanish colonial architecture in a bustling tourism enclave. More power to them!
|New Old Panama City: known as Casco Viejo (the Old Quarter) it’s a place of rapid redevelopment and gentrification...|
|... it has some geogeous architecture.|
New Panama City
But modernism is where the city is really at - Panama City boasts a truly impressive sky-line. Most of the buildings are residential towers, but some are business orientated. Edged by a beautiful waterfront boulevard complete with green sward, walking and cycling tracks, serviced by a well-run metropolitan bus service, an impressive highway system and an underground rapid-transit system under construction, this is a city on the move.
|New Panama City: It’s an impressive skyline, ... when you can see it.|
|Highways snake into the haze of the city across the shores of the Pacific Ocean.|
|Modern, air-conditioned buses run services |
throughout the city – a fare costs 25c and is transferable.
|Some of the architecture is dazzling.|
A Mix of Cultures
The city is home to a diverse mix of peoples; Spanish, Indigenous Americans, Africans, Chinese and expatriate US citizens all mingle here, giving it a cosmopolitan feel.
|A burly bloke of African descent stops to play in a city street with some kids of Chinese descent.|
|Women from the San Blas, many of whom still wear traditional clothing.|
The canal begets everything else; it’s the nation’s economic mainstay, the city’s later-day goldmine. And while this is Central America, so the disbursement of this wealth is not exactly equitable, even the poor seem to be doing reasonably well here. I reckon the city fathers must be concerned by talk of the Chinese constructing a second, sea level canal across Nicaragua. But in any case that is still years in to the future. Meanwhile we were truly impressed by the extent of infrastructural investment - the decision makers seem to be applying some wisdom to the spending of canal revenues.
|Tourism is quite big in Panama – but even that focuses heavily on the canal. As example we took this photo from the viewing deck of a magnificent new canal visitor centre.|
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