Casco Viejo Neighborhood


Casco Viejo is the old part of Panama City with very narrow brick streets, museums, plazas, old churches, old ruins, government offices, hip cafes, and hallowed out abandoned buildings. Contrasts mark this part of town. Some apartments are painted very nicely with vibrant green plants and flowers adorning the porches whereas for others the paint has peeled off and the residents watch an old TV on a pile of rubble. Police with submachine guns patrol nearly four corners of every block. Police with even bigger guns guard the presidential palace (we quickly found out these were no-nonsense fellas).

Why the heavy police force? 1) Tourists. 2) So nobody complains about the poor residents being pushed out of the neighborhood. 3) So nobody complains about rich people moving in. 4) To impress UNESCO, who declared Casco Viejo a "world heritage site" in 1997, and maybe get more money for more police.


I hope they don't paint this door. I kind of like it the way it is.

Rich people populating Casco Viejo is nothing too new. After the swashbuckling Henry Morgan destroyed the original Panama City or "Panama Antiguo" in 1671, the Spanish rebuilt the city in what is now Casco Viejo on a small peninsula that they could defend more easily. They built walls around the Casco Viejo and a moat divided the city from the mainland. Back in the day, the white elite (along with a few of their slaves) lived inside of the walls (known as San Felipe), while the "gente de color" lived outside the city walls (known as the Arrabal or "the slums"). One has to wonder: were the walls and moats meant to protect the rich from the pirates or the poor?


A nice view of the Bella Vista and Punta Paitilla districts of Panama City (east across the bay from Casco Viejo).

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