Founded after the original town was laid to waste by the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan, the survivors of his raid chose this little peninsula because it could be easily fortified (then as now governments react to past crisis) and there was fresh water. Coincidentally it was also beside a river that would eventually become the Panama Canal.
The wealthy and the government (usually one and the same, corruption has plagued this country for a long time) established themselves behind fortified walls. For the next few hundred years sumptuous mansions, grand civic buildings and ornate churches were built creating arguably the most beautiful town on the pacific coast of the Americas.
Casco Viejo has had its ups and downs. It’s fortunes linked with the importance of the Isthmus of Panama to world trade. Sometimes it was more efficient to haul goods across this narrow strip of land, sometimes it was cheaper to sail them around Cape Horn.
By the 1950’s no one wanted to live in this old part of the City and it slowly declined into a dangerous and decrepit slum. A shiny new neighborhood became fashionable. This ‘new city’ is where you now find skyscrapers, high rises, shopping malls and the business district.
Luckily, Casco Viejo is undergoing a wonderful rebirth creating an exciting juxtaposition of gentrification and dereliction. Marvelous old buildings are being beautifully gentrified yet still sit beside squatter filled shells of past glories. Tourist police keep the area safe for the beautiful people who come to dine at incredible restaurants, drink on rooftop bars and party all night in great clubs. We were warned not to wander too far. The strip between the 5 or 6 square blocks that make up this oh so fashionable area and the rest of the city is still very dodgy.