Casco Viejo – Old Panama City

September 22, 2012

Most who know me, understand that I generally don’t get terribly excited about food….however, they also know that I have no problem leaving bad food behind.  One thing though I have picked up from my travels, is that I do get rather excited about experimenting with new food in different cultures.  So after having such a delightful Ceviche experience, time to take a stroll to the adjacent neighborhood.  Taking another look at the cultural style of the boats in waiting, and catching a bird in flight…I head down the road.

Going from the market to the Old City is a rather nice walk!  Immediately, you can see the shift in architecture and the shift in the feeling.  The city has done a great job of creating a pedestrian friendly walkway connecting the fish market and the Old City.

Getting closer to the Casco Viejo, you can make the old style of the buildings out a bit clearer.  The back side of the White House you see, is the Panamanian version of the White House in the United States.

One thing you have to love about architecture like this is that the scale and style really warm you up and make it easy to relate to the physicality of the neighborhood…proximity, closeness, colors…it pulls you in….it gets your attention…

It just a short walk; however, pausing to look back gives you another view of the downtown area.  As I mentioned, it is the rainy season so the lighting and the huge cloud banks make for quite and interesting view.  This is the view from the Old City, however, it is the second Old City for the first one had to be moved as a result of the Pirates.  As you may recall, the English, French, and Spanish…amongst others were vying for various parts of the world and so the original city had to be moved away from the range of the cannons.  The skyline you see now, is the 3rd iteration of the city.

Considering what it looked like back before the mid-1600’s before all this was being established….

All the lives, the families, the people that have come through this area…really reminds us that time is a continuum…and this period is just a spec in the broader dynamic of civilizations and humanity. Unique about this area is that it represents a major point of confluence in the history of European expansion.  Names such as Vasco Balboa, Amerigo Vespucci, Hernan Cortes and Pedro Davila all come into play when discussing the early history of Panama.  Not lost on this history are the many cultures that were here upon their arrival….this history is so significant, that the Coat of Arms of King Fernando (Queen Isabel) of Spain still stands as the Seal of the City:

If you have been singularly in other parts of the city, then here you get a completely different feel….

The feel is reminiscent of Savannah, Georgia or Charleston, South Carolina and some other places, but this has more of a Spanish style to it…obviously….

The small streets and intimacy give you a sense of comfort.  They obviously have done a remarkable job in restoring some of these buildings…of course with Historic Preservation work, there is always more to be done 🙂  Casco Viejo gets an A+ for these efforts…

Nestled in between the structures, you will find a variety of restaurants…and if you are more of a cafeteria style person….well, you will find that as well…

Several projects currently involve building restoration, but you can tell as well that much is being done to bring back the brick style streets…absolutely amazing….gives a sense of solidness to the experience….after a bit of walking…it is so beautiful…there is no need to do much but to look….and absorb….meticulous is the detail….

Having worked in the Historic Preservation community in Savannah, Georgia and having a great appreciation for its significance….I could not just walk by this sign and not take a picture….give your translation skills a shot 🙂

This structure is amazing and significant….even in its current condition…when you look at it and get a feel for it….you can hear it speaking….it is called “Compania de Jesus” it is a historical convent of the Society of Jesus….amazing…

Now I am loving me some historic preservation, but when I travel…for some reason…I generally take a picture of what I find a dog doing when I travel….as a side note…I have some interesting observations about the characteristics of dogs in different countries, maybe I’ll write about that one day 🙂

Never-the-less, when I walked up…this fella didn’t even move…he opened his eye-lid, and I don’t know if dogs can do this, but it looked like he rolled his eyes at me….as if to say “whatever dude….I am so already over you”, I chuckled…snapped my photo…and let him be 🙂  My Man!

Tucked into this community are also several interesting churches of highly historical significance.  Built during the mid-1600’s, it has an old world style and feeling to it:

Beautiful…makes a statement…

This is a closer view of the front….it is made out of old world Gold…serious, serious craftsmanship and work went into it by the Spanish….regardless to your religion…or lack thereof, you have got to respect the master artisan at work…

Another church not located to far away…this one is under reconstruction I believe…wonderful to see the value placed on history and exemplified importance placed upon its future value…

What a full day of absorbing culture…the inside:

This is the French Embassy.  The French played a role in the history of the development of the Panama Canal as they were the ones that started the process of building it.  Because of this history, the Embassy remains at this location near the Plaza de Francia (the French Plaza):

When the French came, they then imprisoned many of the Spanish that were here.  This is one of the locations where they held prisoners:

The statues represent various individuals who played a significant role in getting the work started of building the Panama Canal.  Watch out for that guy in the middle….. 🙂

Keep looking throughout Casco Viejo and you will come across many significant markers.  This is one that honors Simon Bolivar.  We don’t learn much about him in the United States unless you study Latin American history or listen to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela speak, but he his held in high regard in many places for his efforts…

Okay, wherever we go, we’ve got to look for China Town!  And, like in so many cities, they do have a China Town here.  It isn’t a big one…but, significant all the same 🙂

Being in this community, it could be easy to forget that when you are in Panama you are also in a rain forest.  The contrast between the buildings and the green and colors on this tree…well, sometimes you are forced to stop and smell the ‘roses’….even if they come in the form of tree’s…

Throughout Old Panama City, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase the items of your choice.  Of course, this is the home the Panama Hat 🙂  But, the native Kuna, who are indigenous to this area provide plenty of handmade items to acquire….

This community provides a wonderful day trip….plenty to absorb…the layout, the structures, the redevelopment in-process…the history, make for a memorable day.  Yet, bricks and buildings don’t make a community.  One of the things I really liked about this community, is that they have not completely separated the redevelopment from the people who live here.  Walking through these streets…the buildings have stories and have seen lots of things…but, looking at the people…those eyes have their stories as well…

And, in wondering what those eyes have seen, we could also wonder what these eyes are going to see…what they are wanting to see…the future indeed…

And so, walking behind the plaza….I see a lone fella…riding the waves…okay…give me my props 🙂  Had to use my expert photography skills to catch him…he was pretty far out there…interesting that the wave never really got that high…but it kept going for a long way…He’s got swagger…My Man! 🙂

Beautifully preserved space, and it is a work in progress…but where you find water…and a community…you should also find kids somewhere as well 🙂 couldn’t let this opportunity pass by!

Lots of walking, Panama is humid…so be prepared.  And although I was feeling it, this next scene was a fitting end to the day.  Sitting in the truck, I keep hearing this smacking sound combined with people fussing at each other…looking over I saw these tables with men sitting around smacking the tables and talking loud.  I rolled down the window to take a closer look and realized they were playing dominoes….I said to myself, man all over the world there are so many commonalities…it is amazing that some choose to focus on perceived differences!  Realizing I wanted a picture, Jaime said in a loud voice “MUCHACHO’s”, they all turned around and saw my camera and started waving and smiling like we were all family and cousins playing dominoes at the family reunion…

Man….! I am Loving me some Panama!  Like ‘Ice-Cube’ said…”today, was a good day”

🙂
www.takingownership.org

2 Responses to “Casco Viejo – Old Panama City”

  1. You made a lot of effort putting all those pictures there, giving us an impression of that time. Very much appreciated. Thank you for all this work. What a contrast to our country.

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