Another long but wonderful day in Panama City.
In the heat with the Cinta Costera Causeway and city skyline behind us
After an excellent Continental Breakfast we booked out of The Beach House Hotel and headed for the City’s Old Quarter or Casco Antigua. We approached the city via the new Cinta Costera Causeway Causeway which starts near the Biomuseum and continues around the outskirts of the city and the Casco Antigua. The Causeway, like the Amado Causeway, is for both pedestrians and vehicles and they go in opposite directions being extensions of each other.
When we arrived in the Old Quarter finding parking was a real test of patience. The roads are narrow and there is a lot of traffic and there did not appear to be any private garages or yards so all cars were parked on the street. We finally came to a spot outside a family’s front door and a gentleman agreed to us parking there saying that he would look after the car. Of course, we all knew that he wanted a good tip.
Let’s start with a bit of history. The original City of Panama, now called Panama Vieja (pronounced vee-a-ga with the j being guttural) and which we visited in the afternoon, was built right on the Pacific Ocean by the Spanish colonists from 1519. Over a number of years the city was attacked by pirates and experienced a number of fires and eventually totally destroyed in 1671.
A new city was built further inland being incorporated in 1673 with a strong city wall. As a result again of earthquakes and fires many buildings were seriously damaged. Although some were rebuilt, gradually the area was abandoned. In the early 1990s efforts were made to protect some buildings and in 1997 Casco Antigua was declared a UN Heritage Site. As a result buildings are now being restored to their former glory. What impressed us is that they are not being knocked down and a modern building rising in its place.
Part of the old city wall
Beautifully restored buildings in narrow street
Street leading to the French Square. Ladiew dresed for a party and old and restored buildings
As we walked down the road from the car we first passed the ruins of a former monastery and school. This had been closed down in the nineteenth century and has been left in ruins.
Ruins of the old monatery and school
We then came to Tomas Herrera Plaza which had an imposing statue of Tomas Herrera in the centre. Herrera was a Military Leader during the various Wars of Independence and, once independence had been won, he became the 1st President of what was then known as the Republic of the Isthmus in 1840. Unfortunately, just over a year later, the country was returned to Colombia. It wasn’t until November 1903 that Panama was a completely independent country.
Part of Herrera Square with the statue of Tomas Herrera
We crossed the road to visit the Church of San Jose and what a wonderful surprise Lyn had in store for us. Originally the Church was part of the original Panama City but when that was destroyed as much as possible was brought to the ‘new’ city in 1673. On entrance one is drawn straight to the gold carved golden altar which is made of wood and covered in golden flakes. Legend has it that, when Capt Henry Morgan and his gang of pirates destroyed the original city the Jesuit Priests of the Order of St Augustine painted the altar black to hide the gold. Around the sides of the church and beside the Sanctuary are a number of chapels and these have more icons carved of wood and covered in gold flakes. It is just incredible the amount of work that it must have involved.
Nave and Sanctuary with the gold altar
An icon of the Madonna
But then Lyn said that we had not seen everything yet and took us down a few stairs to a very large crypt and along 2 walls was the most amazing layout, all expertly carved, of Bethlehem and Jerusalem in Christ’s time. It quite literally took my breath away. Opposite this were wooden carvings of 11 men. They were the Disciples of Christ and each one was made from a single piece of work. The back of each one still showed the original bark. Why 11? We were told by our guide that it was because the Roman Catholic Church does not recognise Judas but this was not quite correct. I have since learnt that it is because he was not there after the Resurrection as he had died.
This was magnificent
Just 10 of the Disciples. Couldn’t get in all 11
Backs showing original wood
We walked on down the narrow pavements, sometimes meeting a tour group most of whom would not move an inch, and came across some craft shops. In one we purchased a Mola which is a beautifully designed and hand-sewn square made by the Kuna women and used as the front or back of a blouse. Many tourists who purchase them make them into cushion covers. Ours is for a friend and we can get it to her when we are allowed to visit others when more lockdown regulations are eased.
Some of the cradtwork of the local people
With the owner of the shop where we bought the mola
One of the shops stocked local costumes for customers to don and be photographed. While we were there, a mother and her 3 children were changed and they allowed me to be photographed with them.
With a mother and her 2 daughters dressed for photos
As was the case with many of the shops in the city, Panama hats were for sale but we learnt that these were not actually Panamanian but Ecuadorian. They were first made in Ecuador by a gentleman living in Montichristi but, due to the low tourist trade, he went to sell them in Panama. Hundreds of men bought them, particularly the Americans working on the Panama Canal and on returning home they told people that they purchased them in Panama hence the name given to them.
Men’s hats made in Panama
We gradually made our way down to the French Square where we enjoyed an ice drink made of ice scraped from a huge block and then covered with a fruit-flavoured juice. Absolutely delicious especially in the heat of the day.
The ‘Ice’ man with his big block of ice
The French Square is dominated by a large crescent-shaped building open to the Square itself. In the open area at the front of the building is an obelisk topped by a rooster. It was erected in honour of the French who died while attempting to build the canal in the late 1800s. Around the obelisk were statues of Ferdinand de Lesseps and the men who made up the French ‘Executive’ team for building the Panama Canal. On the walls of the building was the history of the French explorers and their achievements. The building roof was a wide paved area giving stunning views of the city, bay and Ancon Hill.
Obelisk with the cockerelFerdinand de Lesseps and his team
Ancon Hill with its huge Panamian Flag
From here we made our way behind the Square and past many crafts tables. The things are really beautifully made but we had enough. Part of this walk was under a beautiful, shady vine which was most welcome. We walked a short distance to a fabulous Fish Restaurant where we had lunch.