Ruins of Panama Viejo

Panama Viejo, or in English, Old Panama, is the location of the famous ruins of the former capital of Panama. In addition to serving as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Panama, Panama Viejo offers its visitors an amazing display of the country’s rich and vibrant history. 


Established in 1519 by Pedro Arias Dávila under the royal decree of Charles V of Spain, Panama Viejo was the first permanent European settlement in South America.  The city soon gained prominence as the capital of one of the most important colonies under the Spanish crown, and was actively used as the base for Spanish expeditions in South America. The growth of commerce in Panama Viejo can be measured by the fact that by the end of the 16th century, the population of the city had increased manyfold, to an estimated 10,000. However Old Panama’s history was plagued by a host of natural and manmade catastrophes.  The city’s growth was harshly curtailed in the 17th century by sporadic occurrences of earthquakes and fires. The most severe incidences of destruction as recorded by historians are the earthquake of 1620, and the massive fire of 1644. 

The Fall of Old Panama

Despite these catastrophes, the greatest threat to the city continued to be the invasions and raids of South American tribes and pirates. With the increased power of Spain in the Americas, Panama Viejo had become the most active port for exporting precious metals and natural resources to Europe. Due to its importance in terms of commerce, and its vulnerable location in the Pacific, Old Panama was attacked several times by pirates in the 17th century. The city finally yielded to the conquest of Henry Morgan, the infamous English pirate, on January 28th, 1671. In one of the most daring raids recorded in history, Henry Morgan’s militia of 1400 men defeated the city’s forces. A massive fire that is believed to have been started by Morgan’s men prefaced the battle in which thousands of the city residents lost their lives. The entire settlement was destroyed, leaving behind the ruins of Panama Viejo as a stark reminder of the magnificence and splendor of this great city.

Panama Viejo Today

Its unique mix of Spanish architecture with the finest display of American craftsmanship gives Panama Viejo a distinct look that has rarely been duplicated anywhere in the world. Its old stone columns, cathedrals, and ports still radiate a magnificence that is befitting of the country’s rich history. Another major attraction of Old Panama is the Bell Tower at the Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Cathedral, which has survived onslaughts of invaders as well as the ravages of time.

In 1997, UNESCO classified Panama Viejo, along with the district of Panama, as a World Heritage Site. Since then Old Panama has seen massive restoration efforts to reinstate the grandeur of its early days. Today, Old Panama attracts a huge number of national and international tourists. The monumental complex also hosts a visitor center, museum, and a handicraft market.

Reaching Panama Viejo

The monument is located at a distance of a few miles from downtown Panama City, reachable by taxi or private transportation by a 15 minutes drive. The monument is also accessible through a frequent and efficient city bus service.