European exploration of Mesoamerica started
as soon as Columbus reached the shores of the New World in 1492.
Spanish expedition of Vasco Nunez de Balboa in 1513 reached a
Pacific Coast. A royal degree of an erection of the new city
was issued making Panama Viejo one of the oldest European
communities in the New World.
Panama Viejo was founded on 15 August 1519 by Spanish
conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila who led a group of 100 settlers
to the new settlement and a port on the Pacific coast. They
created a city with a perfect grid for the streets and future
homes. Architecture and general layout were influenced by
European style and the esthetics of the day. Two years later the village got promoted to
the status of a city.
Panama Viejo became a seat of a Royal Tibunal of the Spanish
Crown. It became an important port and launching point for
attacks on Peru and its Inca empire. In return gold and silver were shipped
from central America to the coasts of Europe.
The city boasted a population of 10,000 by the middle of the
17th century. City's main cathedral
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Cathedral of Our Lady
of Asunción) was constructed in 1619- 1626 on the Plaza Mayor in
the center of the city. Additionally this central square has
ruins of Cabildo de la Ciudad (City Hall)
and Casas de Terrín
(House of Terrín)
that belonged to Francisco Terrín,
one of the richest citizens here. A well preserved private
residence known as Casa Alarcón (dates back to 1640's) is
situated to the north of the Plaza. Another interesting religious
building is Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo (Church &
Convent of St Dominic) that date back to 1570's.
Panama Viejo was badly damaged by earthquake in 1621 and again by
fire in 1644. However the final nail to the settlement came in a
face of old European rivals.
On 28 January 1671 the Welsh privateer Henry Morgan broke the
peace agreement between England and Spain and attacked the city.
His army of 1400 men marched here from the Atlantic Ocean to
steal gold and silver. The fire that destroyed the city was
either started by soldiers of Henry Morgan or Captain General Don Juan
Perez de Guzman. The city has been abandoned ever since.
Surviving residents decided to move to a more protected
location, where they could defend their homes and lives. Panama
Viejo was moved to a slightly different location, about 8 km South-
west of its former location. At the time of its founding it was
called the New City. Today it is known as the Historic District.
Today Panama Viejo is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site
due to its unique architecture and historic value.