Before I write about our afternoon there though, I have 2 other important buildings in Panama Antigua which I forgot to mention in the previous blog. One is the Metropolitan Cathedral and the other the story of St Domingo’s Convent or Church.
Construction of the Metropolitan Cathedral or St Mary’s Basilica Cathedral began in 1688 but only consecrated in 1796 as it took 108 years to build. It is a beautiful building linking old and new styles between its main section and the 2 towers, one on either side. We didn’t stop and go in for 2 reasons. The main one was time which we preferred to spend at Panama Vieja and the other being that there was nowhere to park in Catedral Plaza. (Vieja means old in Spanish). Lyn hopped out and took some lovely photos of the front of the Cathedral.
The Metropolitan Cathedral
The Church or Convent of Santa Domingo was originally built in 1678 and razed to the ground in the major fire of 1756 which affected not only it but other churches and buildings as well. This one was left in ruins.
Area of Nave of former Church of Santa Domingo
Beside the ruins is a small chapel museum with some of the artefacts that were salvaged. Trevor wanted to get some photos and so, even though there was a sign saying ‘no photos’, he went in and somehow convinced the lady on duty to let him take some as long as he paid the $1 entrance fee. We waited outside for him to do his bartered deed.
Tyrone and I waiting outside the Museum for Trevor
We had lunch at a restaurant called Finca del Mar, Fish from the Sea. Fish is easily available and always well cooked in Panama. Fishermen go out very early and come in mid-morning to sell their fish on the beach so it is always fresh. We sat in comfortable chairs in the open and had excellent service. Trevor and I got to taste a very popular dish, Ceviche, which originated in Peru. With fish being the predominant ingredient, it is flavoured with a large variety of possibilities. It can be as simple as lemon and herbs or spiced up with chillies, coriander and ginger and is usually served with various salad items on the side. The fish is marinated in lime juice which ‘cooks’ it but it should be eaten on the same day. Ours was a prawn ceviche and was delicious.
Vicky & Lyn at the sign for the restaurant
Cerviche with fried Plantains
From there we drove to Panama Vieja which is on the outskirts of the City, close to the Pacific Ocean. This was the original Panama City and many of the buildings were made of wood and thatch making them susceptible to fire and earthquakes besides pirate attacks. Some buildings such as the Church of San Jose (which is now in Casco Antigua), the administration blocks and the hospital were of stone as was the city wall. As more people arrived they settled inland and built themselves simple homes and did basic farming.
A replica of the original Convent
The final attack on this city was by Capt Henry Morgan and his team of pirates in their attempt to claim this small country for Britain. They were unsuccessful and on their retreat the city was moved inland where it is today. The Museum was where we went first and spent over an hour there but wishing that we had at least another 2 so as to take it all in but as usual, time was moving on.
Entrance to the Museum
Busts of King Ferdinand of Spain and Queen Isabella
A model of the original city
We walked up the hill to Stop 3 where the ‘bus’ would pick us up and later return us. While we waited we took a look at some of the ruins which were in that area. Some of the walls were being stabilised by metal scaffolding. What always interests me in these places Is how so many countries have kept and maintained the relics of their past colonizers. Good information is available in the form of boards at each item. Unlike here in South Africa where efforts are made to remove and/or remove and destroy them or just leave them to decay.
Former chapel and tree with aerial roots
Lyn looking at some of the ruins
The bus drove us around to the main part of the old city where the church and other stone buildings had stood. One piece was still almost complete and that was the watch tower into which stairs had been built so that one could climb to the top of the tower and enjoy some magnificent views of the city and the harbour. The other 3 climbed up while I decided to be more sedate and have a cup of coffee.
The Watch Tower and parts of the city wall
View of Panama city today from the Watch tower
Tyrone & Trevor climbing the stairs
Trevor & Tyrone at the top of the tower with a city view behind them
We eventually set off for home and, although it was the Saturday of Carnival weekend, we had few problems as we were going in the direction opposite to the traffic returning home. Lyn’s plan of booking an overnight stay in Panama City was an excellent one as it allowed us time to see all the main areas of the City without feeling rushed.
Ahead lay 2 restful days before we had to say farewell to Panama and wing our way to Santiago in Chile in preparation for boarding the ship for our cruise around South America.
Panama City’s shield is so interesting.