A Tour of Panama City's Spanish Colonial Architectural Landmarks

View of Casco Viejo, Panama City | © DEZALB/Pixabay
View of Casco Viejo, Panama City | © DEZALB/Pixabay
Photo of Martina Gili
5 September 2017

Spanish settlements in Panama date back to the arrival of the first conquistador, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, at the beginning of the 16th century. Traces of the Spanish colonial presence in Panama City are mainly found around the UNESCO Heritage Site of Panama Viejo, and in the neighbourhood of Casco Antiguo, the historic district of Panama. Here are the most important landmarks of Panama City’s colonial architecture.

Panama Viejo

Panama City was founded in 1519 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias de Ávila. The city prospered under the rule of Spain, becoming the first European settlement on the Pacific Coast and the bridge that brought Peruvian gold and silver to Europe. Panama Viejo, a UNESCO heritage site, is what remains of the now-buried ancient town of Panama City. It is also the capital’s oldest monument.

Panama Viejo, Panama | © Lapping/ Pixabay

The Metropolitan Cathedral

In the late 17th century, the old town of Panama was sacked, and the city was relocated to Panama City’s historic district of Casco Viejo. The most impressive building in the renovated colonial neighbourhood is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Panama, which is also one of the largest churches in Central America. Completed in 1796, it underwent major renovation in 2003.

The cathedral in Casco Viejo, Panama | © Lapping/ Pixabay

The Arco Chato

Building, Archaeological site, Historical Landmark
Map View
El Arco Chato
El Arco Chato | © Rodolfo Aragundi/WikiCommons
The Arco Chato is the flat arch of the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo in Casco Viejo. After the founding of the city, the Dominican friars began building their church in the new Panama. Unfortunately, a fire broke out in 1756, burning all the woodwork in the church, which was never rebuilt. The arch is the only part that remains, and it is now one of Panama City’s most remarkable Spanish colonial architectural landmarks.

Casa Góngora

Considered one of the greatest examples of the Spanish influence in Panama City, Casa Góngora is one of the best-kept pieces of colonial architecture in town. Its name traces back to a merchant called Pablo Góngora who inhabited the house during the mid-18th century. The building suffered during the 1756 fire, but was rebuilt. In 1987 Casa Góngora was expropriated and became part of a project of the municipality, which restored it. Today, it is the House of Culture and of Panamanian Artists.

Casa Góngora | ©WikiCommons

The Plazas

Cathedral, Museum
Map View
Plaza de la Independencia in Casco Viejo, Panama City
Plaza de la Independencia in Casco Viejo, Panama City | © Courtesy of cascoviejo.org
Casco Viejo has four main squares (plazas) that reflect Spanish colonial architecture at its best. Plaza de la Independencia was the first and only square for many centuries, while Plaza Bolizar and Plaza Herrera were built on the land that was left empty after the 1756 fires. Plaza de Francia came later – it was built in 1922 to honour the French people who were pioneers of the construction of the Panama Canal. Near to the Plaza de la Independencia are the Metropolitan Cathedral of Panama, the Museum of the Canal, and the Town Hall.

The San Felipe Neri Church

Church, School
Map View
San Felipe Neri Church in Casco Viejo, Panama | © Courtesy of arquitecturaenpanama.com
Among tourist sites such as the Presidential Palace and the National Theatre, you will find the San Felipe Neri Church, in the neighborhood of Casco Viejo. Inaugurated in 1988, it is considered to be the oldest church in town. Since then, it was been a parish, a school, a cultural center for the association Acción Catolica, a youth center, and a retirement home, before its restoration in 1995. In 2004, the church was blessed through an solemn ceremony held by Panama’s archbishop.

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