People don't take trips...trips take people.
~ John Steinbeck
Pirates, Earthquakes and Fire, Oh my!
OLD PANAMA CITY (PANAMA VIEJA), PANAMA - For a number of years I have been looking for a place to retire when that time finally arrives. I like to plan and have all my ducks in a row and this was one of my exploratory trips.
Panama was one of those countries that on the 'list of best places’ to live as an expat, so I put it on my list to check out. With only a few days to explore Panama City I didn't have time to go outside of the city, which means I didn't see everything the country had to offer. But I did get a 'feel' for the culture, especially that of the city.
I have to say that the weather was hot. Not just hot, but hot and humid where I felt as though I had just jumped out of the shower and didn't towel off. And being close to the equator the sun was fierce. Put all that together and I was one 'glistening' tourist.
Besides looking around the city a bit, I made my way to see three key tourist locations - Old Panama City, Casco Viejo, and the Panama Canal. And I am glad I did. What an interesting and rich history and I am not even a history buff!
These are the ruins of the original city and former capital of the country. It has been a World Heritage Site since 1997.
I arrived by taxi and was dropped off in the heat of the day. The sun felt oppressive as I exited the taxi and began to walk the 15 minutes down the road toward the ruins.
Standing inside an archway of the cathedral, looking out toward
the modern high rises of Panama City.
The buildings were from as early as 1519 when the area was settled by Pedro Arias Davila and about 100 other in habitants. Over time it became a starting point for expeditions to Peru and point from where gold and silver were shipped to Spain. By the early 1600s the city with a population of 5000 people was attacked by pirates followed by an earthquake that damaged many of the houses, convents, chapels, a hospital and cathedral in the city.
The city almost doubled in size by 1670. Enter Welsh pirate Henry Morgan with 1400 men. The city's militia was defeated and a fire of uncertain origin burned the city. Later the city was moved to the location where Casco Viejo now sits, but that is another story.
Standing outside the devotion room in the Convent of Conception.
The old city and its’ ruins held the history and secrets of the past. The first ruin I came upon was the Convent de las Monjas de la Conception where the nuns lived and practiced their faith. I imagined what life must have been like living in this stone structure. In the distance, past other remaining walls and partial structures, I saw a stone tower that was fully intact from the original Panama Cathedral. After I walked through the city that remained, I went inside the tower and climbed to the top. The tower had been reinforced. New stairs and railings had been installed so visitors could go to the top of the tower and look over the ruins, view the sea, and way in the distance to modern day Panama City.
I was taken by the history, the destruction due to pirates, earthquake and fire.
The one remaining intact structure, the Cathedral's stone tower.
The tower of the Cathedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion is the best preserved building of the ruins. Step by step, I climbed the bell tower which may have been a watch tower as well based on where it was situated on the city grounds. The view was stunning.
By this time, the heat, sun and the climb up 22 meters had nearly done me in. I was 'glistening' and my face was red from the sun and heat. Note to self...next time bring extra water and a hat.
This what near heat exhaustion looks like, after
climbing 22 meters in the oppressive heat of the day.
I made my way down the stairs and found a wonderful handicraft market that was shaded and with a newly acquired bottle of water I ventured through the stalls filled with wonderful handicrafts representative of Panama culture and was thrilled to encounter a woman selling colorful embroidered molas on cloths, wall hangings, satchels and more. After purchasing a wonderful bag I continued back and noticed there was a museum near where I had been dropped off a couple of hours before.
The museum focuses on the early Spanish settlement and artifacts from that time that are a testament of the cultural heritage of Panama. There was pottery and other artifacts found on site, displays that explained construction, restoration, and a model of the city as it was before destruction. It was an amazing display honoring the country’s rich and vibrant history.
My day had come to an end and I headed back to my air conditioned hotel room. As I opened the door to my room I felt a rush of cool air and wondered how those who lived in Old Panama City way back when got relief from the sweltering heat.
Kuna woman selling swatches of mola for wall decoration or pillows,
but they do not sell the traditional mola clothing because it is part
of their cultural heritage.
Mola - A Kuna Tradition
Mola is a Kuna tradition of making clothing.
Mola motifs leave very little empty space. To leave empty space is to leave space that evil spirits can settle in. Different design element have different meanings. Vertical lines, like light coming through bamboos slats, means being protected by the family. Zig zag lines are considered teeth biting away the evil spirits. A labrynth design causes evil to become lost. Triangles, shaped like huts, means being protected by the family.
The quality of a mola is determined by the number of layers of cloth used in the design and the quality of stitching.
Mola are not allowed to be sold outside of Panama or Columbia. The Kuna tribe forbids it.