Monday, January 25, 2010
Wandering among the ruins of Panama Viejo
A freak food poisoning episode for C—luckily now over—prompted our return to Panama City two days early. Chrysa's advice to travelers: do not eat raw cookie dough when cooking with unrefrigerated eggs ;-) Being back to the city was also the opportunity for Q to be checked again after having been treated for a double acute external ear infection. Looks like we're both in the clear now! There's always a little price to pay for everything, including for being in paradise...
Anyway, on Saturday C stayed at the hotel to recover, so I went by myself to visit the site of the Old Panama, or "Panama Viejo", where the city was first established in the early 16th century. Panama City is thus one of the first cities to have been built by Spaniards, and is actually the first capital city built in the Americas.
Now, the whole place was burnt down after a major attack and looting by the famous buccaneer Henry Morgan (think rum) in 1671, so there are only ruins left, with only the tower of the cathedral still standing. Apparently about 2 years after the fire the Spanish people started to use the rocks from those ruins to build the newer town further West in Casco Viejo (see older posts). This also explains why not much is still standing.
Nonetheless, Panama Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers about 50 acres and that is still worth visiting. A historical museum is found at one end, and the tower is at the other. About half of that area is open like a park, and it looks like a lot of people actually also use it as a dumpster or pasture for horses since it's covered with grass :-( The place was pretty empty, and it made for a fun walk. I liked the renovation of some convent walls, and to see the underground chamber (that with the arches and pillars on a picture) that could hold up to 100,000 liters of water back then.
The cathedral area was more touristy, but still way within reason compared to similar sites in Italy for example. That was also clearly where the restoration efforts were concentrated. We can go up the tower (30 meters!), which provides a look out over the city and the bay. Here as well, Panama appeared as a city of contrasts, with its 16th century remnants adjacent to ultramodern skyscrapers.
Sunday was pretty low key as we started repacking for the second main leg of our trip. So we just went back to the sea front at Casco Viejo to enjoy yet another sunset and some more local food. Stay tuned as we cross the Equator for what will be our first incursion into the Southern hemisphere!