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article imageRuins of ‘Old Panama’ — first European settlement on the Pacific Special

By Igor I. Solar     Sep 22, 2013 in Travel
Panama City - The archaeological ruins known as “Panama Viejo” (Old Panama) are the remains of the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific coast. Through Old Panama, and the town of “Nombre de Dios” passed most of the riches the Spaniards took from America.
The location of “Santa María la Antigua del Darién,” founded in 1510 by Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa in the territories called “Castilla de Oro” (near today's Panamanian-Colombian border) was considered inappropriate by Captain General Pedro Arias de Ávila (1468-1531). Santa Maria was located in the Caribbean sector of the easternmost region of the Central American Isthmus, and Arias de Ávila thought that a settlement on the Pacific coast could offer logistical advantages to facilitate the plundering of the legendary gold and silver deposits of Birú (present day Peru) rumored to exist in the remote lands of South America.
Ruins of Old Panama. Most of the thickest walls have resisted the passing of almost four centuries.
Ruins of Old Panama. Most of the thickest walls have resisted the passing of almost four centuries.
Ruins of Old Panama. The archaelogical site of Old Panama has many high stone walls still remaining ...
Ruins of Old Panama. The archaelogical site of Old Panama has many high stone walls still remaining from the close to 100 civic and religious buildings in the old town.
Pedrarias and the founding of Old Panama
Pedro Arias de Ávila was wicked, ruthless and greedy, but he was also a practical man (he actually compressed his name to curter “Pedrarias Dávila”), and decided to build a town on the coast of the Southern Sea in the place where the isthmus is narrower. This strategic location would facilitate access to the riches of Peru and would allow expeditious communication to the Caribbean Sea for the transfer of the spoils to Spain.
Pedrarias Dávila founded Panama on August 15, 1519, at the place now known as "Panama Viejo." At the time of its foundation, about 400 Spaniards lived in Panama. Among the prominent residents of the new town were Pascual Andagoya, Francisco Pizarro, Diego de Almagro, and the priest Hernando de Luque.
Looking for riches in the southern lands
The first adventurer who attempted the conquest of Peru was Pascual Andagoya. He did not make it to the Empire of the Incas, but gained valuable information from the natives of Colombia about the territories further south "where silver and gold were more plentiful than stones". This increased the interest of Pizarro, Almagro and de Luque who in 1524 and 1526 undertook expeditions to the south which also failed for lack of supplies, bad weather and setbacks in conflicts with the natives. In 1533, the third expedition, led by Pizarro, succeeded ending with the capture of Cuzco (1533), the founding of Lima (1535), and the looting of the riches of the Incas. Although Pizarro's remains rest in the Cathedral of Lima, many Peruvians blame him for the destruction of their indigenous culture, language, and religion.
Ruins of Old Panama. The largest buildings in the ruins of Old Panama are the remains of civic or re...
Ruins of Old Panama. The largest buildings in the ruins of Old Panama are the remains of civic or religious structures, or the residences of important authorities in the city.
Ruins of Old Panama. Old masonry arch that was used to hold large water buckets going in and out of ...
Ruins of Old Panama. Old masonry arch that was used to hold large water buckets going in and out of the fountain providing drinking water for the residents.
The first land road across the isthmus
In 1541, Panama City had about 4,000 inhabitants (including Spaniards, natives, and African slaves). The city consisted mostly of wooden huts, but at least a hundred houses were built in stone. The Spaniards also built an 80-kilometer-long stone path (of course the natives and the African slaves were the workhands) connecting Old Panama with the town of "Nombre de Dios” (Name of God). Nombre de Dios, the oldest continually populated town in Panama and the America's mainland, had been founded in 1510 next to an unhealthy swamp on the Caribbean coast of Panama.
From 1545 until about 1800, Panama and Nombre de Dios became the most important ports for the Spanish Treasure Fleet. It is estimated that around 31,000 tons of silver extracted from the mines of Potosi in Upper Peru (present day Bolivia) passed through Panama, along the road to Nombre de Dios, then on towards Havana, for further transport to Spain.
Ruins of Old Panama. The archaelogical site of Old Panama has many high stone walls still remaining ...
Ruins of Old Panama. The archaelogical site of Old Panama has many high stone walls still remaining from the close to 100 civic and religious buildings in the old town.
Ruins of Old Panama. The Cathedral is the most important monument of Old Panama and its bell tower i...
Ruins of Old Panama. The Cathedral is the most important monument of Old Panama and its bell tower is the largest element within the archaeological site. Built with masonry and wood, the tower measures about 30 metres. It is considered the most emblematic monument of Panama.
Attack of Admiral Sir Henry Morgan
In 1671, when Old Panama had about 15,000 inhabitants, the British pirate Henry Morgan attacked the city. The Spaniards were vulnerable because instead of coming from the Pacific, Morgan came across the mountains from Nombre de Dios.
With an army of 1,400 men Henry Morgan besieged Panama for nearly a month. To prevent Morgan from taking over the city and its treasures, Captain General Juan Perez de Guzman ordered the gunpowder deposits set on fire in order to cause an explosion and blaze that would destroy the entire city, thus causing confusion and allowing settlers to escape by sea taking with them some of the treasure. Morgan's actions were in violation of the 1670 peace treaty between England and Spain, but he walked away with a bounty of 175 mules loaded with gold and silver.
Two years later, in 1673, Panama City was rebuilt about 8 miles southwest, in the place of today’s Old Town (Historic District of Panama). In 1997, the archaeological site of Panama Viejo and the Historic District of Panama were designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
Ruins of Old Panama. The tower of the Cathedral was built to serve two purposes: religious and milit...
Ruins of Old Panama. The tower of the Cathedral was built to serve two purposes: religious and military. The tower held the church's bells and was also a look-out to the ocean and the surrounding lands.
Ruins of Old Panama. View from the tower looking down the surface that was occupied by the main nave...
Ruins of Old Panama. View from the tower looking down the surface that was occupied by the main nave of the church.
Ruins of Old Panama. View towards the Pacific Ocean from one of the Cathedral s top windows. Beyond ...
Ruins of Old Panama. View towards the Pacific Ocean from one of the Cathedral's top windows. Beyond the coastal forest is the South Corridor over Panama Bay, a highway linking downtown Panama and Tocumen International Airport.
Ruins of Old Panama. The land occuppied by the ruins of Old Panama covers about 32 hectares. This vi...
Ruins of Old Panama. The land occuppied by the ruins of Old Panama covers about 32 hectares. This view from one of the Cathedral's top windows looks towards the modern city.
More about Old Panama, archaelogical sites, Cerntral America, Panama, Spanish conquest
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