UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic District of Panama

UNESCO World Heritage Site:  Historic District of Panama

architecture in old town panama, a unesco heritage site

Panama City has two sides – the modern, with its skyscraper banks and casinos, and the old town, the historic district, referred to as Historic District of Panama, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Founded in 1519, Panama City is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. The city was hit many hard times – slave rebellion, fire, and an earthquake, before being destroyed in a pirate attack in 1671. The original site was laid out in a slightly irregular, somewhat rudimentary grid of colonial planning.

The city was moved in 1673, about four and a half miles southeast and is known as Casco Antiguo or the old town. A sea wall was erected for protection from its enemies, the city had a central plaza with smaller plazas on the fringe. The streets were organized, of a sort, although it was likely hard to figure out the organization.

Notable historic and cultural sites include:

  • St. Mary’s Cathedral
  • San Felipe Neri church
  • San Jose church
  • San Francisco church
  • La Merced church
  • Presidential Palace
  • House of the Municipality
  • Canal Museum (which was originally a hotel)
  • National Theater
  • Ministry of Government and Justice
  • Municipal Palace
  • Casa Gongora

The Historic District of Panama today is a complex grid of streets and blocks of varying sizes. Structures are a blend of 19th and early 20th-century architecture with a colonial, Caribbean, Gulf Coast, French, and Neo-Renaissance flair. The culture sites dominate the area, with cafes, restaurants, and shops intermingled.

Take a walk with me through part of the historic district of Panama


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Mary Jo Manzanares is a traveler, travel blogger, and podcaster. In addition to her blog, Traveling with MJ, she hosts the Where Else to Go podcast, and is the founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine. Her travel ethos is value luxury - luxury for real people - and her goal is to help travelers know when to splurge and when to save. Mary Jo has been a speaker at various industry events around the world. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Her most recent travels were to Stockholm, a Baltic cruise, and Universal Orlando Resort.

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