Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Day 16 : Costa Rica and Panama…

Our Panama City Tour guide, Jorge, was great today. Cute, friendly, informative and engaging. 

We started in the Old Town - the Casco Antiguo - seen by many as the city’s colourful colonial quarter. This area was founded in 1673, after the inhabitants of the original city Panama Viejo were forced to move following Welsh pirate Henry Morgan’s bloody attack. 

Indeed, many of the stones from Panama Viejo were painstakingly moved to this new site, eight kilometres up the coast, and we could still spot these today in many of the churches and colonial buildings here. 

This Old Town area became something of a ghetto during Noriega’s campaign in the late 1980s, but a regeneration programme has tried to bring a new lease of life to the area and today it is aiming to be a vibrant quarter with a New Orleans meets Old Havana feel to it. However this gentrification is not going unopposed though. There are squats and signs aplenty. 

We saw the presidential palace, the French Plaza (dedicated to the scores of French workers who lost their lives in the original French attempt to build the canal) and the San Jose church with its famous golden altar, which was moved from Panama Viejo in 1673. Local legend has it that the altar survived Morgan’s attack thanks to a local priest who painted the gold with black paint and convinced Morgan that the original altar had already been taken. Tee hee. 

We then visited Panama Viejo, the ruins of the original city on the eastern edge of modern day Panama. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Panama Viejo marks the spot of the first city founded on the Pacific Coast by the Conquistador Pedro Arias de Avila in 1519. By 1670 the city had around 10,000 inhabitants, although it was largely destroyed by the attack by Morgan, at which point it was abandoned. The site is currently undergoing renovation following years of neglect (again during Noriega’s reign), and the area is now set in pleasant grasslands. The on-site museum features a scale model of the old city plus many artefacts discovered during its uncovering.

We then went for some lunch - traditional Panamanian fayre. Nice. And then an IMAX film of the construction of the canal. Morgan Freeman doing the voicing. Very good. 

The surprise ending of the tour, and most moving part for me, was visiting the memorial of the school children who were shot dead by American soldiers in 1964. The kids had just tried to put a Panama flag up. 

The attempt to put the flag up caused it to be torn by American kids. That lead to a riot. After three days of fighting, about 22 Panamanians and four U.S. soldiers were killed. 

The incident is considered to be a significant factor in the U.S. decision to transfer its control of the canal back to Panama. Albeit not until 1977. And even then it took 20 years more to completely do so. 

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