Panama City – Casco ViejoSunday, 1 May 2016
My Panama City visit featured the new skyscrapered financial centre and the original Spanish city Panamá Viejo, until it was sacked by the English pirate Henry Morgan. But I started my Panama visit by staying in Casco Viejo, the newer ‘old city’ which replaced the original old city after Morgan’s visit in 1671.
▲ I stayed at the American Trade Hotel on Plaza Herrera, it’s a fine old building which perfectly captures the mood of Casco Viejo, it’s a real contrast to the modern-as-tomorrow centre of modern Panama City.
◄ From my room I could catch a glimpse of a clear connection to the first Spanish city. La Merced church originally stood in Panamá Viejo. When the decision was taken to abandon the old city and relocate to Casco Viejo the church façade was transported here and reassembled with a new interior behind it. Of course that interior is now 300 years old.
▲ More recently Casco Veijo became a run-down slum and is still in the process of being renovated and restored. You can quickly walk from high end restoration to crumbling shanty and a little care is required at night. The American Trade Hotel symbolizes that change, for years it was a gang hangout, a local squat with the walls covered in graffiti. The stairway from the lobby is decorated with photographs of that gangland graffiti.
▲ The hotel is part of the Ace Hotel group, their first hotel outside the USA. It’s quite unlike their funky industrial-chic feel in New York or London although I did find one reminder of the Ace Hotel in New York. Coming back to the hotel in Panama City one evening I found the long table in the lobby lit up by laptops and tablets. Just like in New York.
▲ Wednesday night also featured Danilo’s Jazz Club at the hotel with Roberto ‘Toto’ Ruiz on trumpet along with a pianist, double bass, drummer and, from time to time, a young guy on Panamanian drums (whatever they might be). Doing Miles Davis with Panamanian flavour.
▲ Elsewhere around Casco Viejo there were fine old buildings, a Panama Canal Museum, a collection of churches and Plaza Francia, with statues, inscriptions and history dedicated to the original unsuccessful French effort to build the canal. The French project to cut a canal totally at sea level was led by Ferdinand de Lesseps who had constructed the Suez Canal without difficulty, so what could possibly go wrong? Plenty as it turned out. The plaza features this bas relief where, in truly French fashion, Ms Atlantic meets Ms Pacific and suggests building a canal between their two clothing optional beaches.