Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
This is about the capital of Panama. There is also Panama City, Florida.
Panama City (Spanish: Ciudad de Panamá), population 708,738, is the capital of Panama, located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. Panama City is the political, administrative and cultural center of the country. Juan Carlos Navarro is the current mayor of the city.
The city was founded on August 15, 1519, by Pedro Arias de Avila, also known as Pedrarias Davila. A recurring theme in the history of the city has been the ebb and flow world commerce through the isthmus. Within a few years of its founding, the city became a launching point for the exploration and conquest of Peru and a transit point for gold and silver headed back to Spain through the Isthmus. In 1671 Henry Morgan with a band of 1400 men attacked and looted the city, which was subsequently destroyed by fire. The ruins of the old city still remain and are a popular tourist attraction known as Panama la Vieja. It was rebuilt in 1673 in a new location about 5 miles west-southwest of the original city. This location is now known as the Casco Viejo or Old Hull of the city.
Discovery of gold in California in 1848 led to an upsurge in travellers crossing the isthmus en route to the west coast of North America. The year before the discovery of gold, the Panama Railroad Company  was formed, but the railroad did not begin operation until 1855. Between 1848 and 1869, the year the first transcontinental railroad was completed in the United States, about 375,000 persons crossed the isthmus from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and 225,000 in the opposite direction. That traffic greatly increased the prosperity of the city during that period.
Not surprisingly, construction of the Panama Canal was of great benefit to the infrastructure of the city. Of particular note are the improvements in health and sanitation brought about by the American presence in the Canal Zone. These include the eradication of yellow fever and malaria and the introduction of a first-rate water supply system. However, most of the laborers for the construction of the canal were brought in from the Caribbean, which created unprecedented racial and social tensions in the fledgling city.
During World War II, construction of military bases and the presence of larger numbers of U.S. military and civilian personnel brought about unprecedented levels of prosperity to the city. Throughout the years, however, the benefits of American presence in the canal area, had a price. From the perspective of Panamanians, this massive presence was viewed as an affront to their nationalism and also as an irritation to life in and around the city. In fact until the late 1960s, Panamanians had limited access, or no access at all, to many areas in the Canal Zone neighboring the Panama City metropolitan area. Some of these areas were military bases accessible only to United States personnel.
In the late 1970s and through the 1980s Panama City became an international banking center bringing along with it a lot of undesirable attention as an international money-laundering center. In 1989 after nearly a year of tension between the United States and Panama, President Bush ordered an invasion to depose the leader of Panama, General Manuel Noriega. As a result of the action, dubbed Operation Just Cause, a portion of the El Chorillo neighborhood, which consisted mostly of old wood-framed buildings dating back to the 1900s, was destroyed by fire. Eventually, the U. S. helped finance the construction of large cinderblock apartment buildings to replace the destroyed structures. Panama City remains a banking center, although with very visible controls in the flow of cash. Shipping is handled through port facilities in the neighboring municipality of Balboa operated by the Hutchison Whampoa Company of Hong Kong and through several ports on the Caribbean side of the isthmus. Balboa, which is located within the greater Panama City metropolitan area was formerly part of the Panama Canal Zone, and in fact the administration of the former Panama Canal Zone was headquartered there.
Panama city as a tourist destination
The city has numerous tourist attractions including world-class hotels and restaurants. Of particular interest to tourists are various sites located in the Casco Viejo, including
- Las Bóvedas, literally The Vaults, a waterfront promenade jutting out into the Pacific;
- The Supreme Court Building and across from it, the French Embassy;
- The Cathedral on Plaza de la Catedral;
- Teatro Nacional, a recently renovated performance center, with outstanding natural acoustics; It provides an intimate performance environment, seating about 800 guests.
- Museo del Canal Interoceánico;
- Numerous restaurants located near the French embassy.
- Palacio de las Garzas, the official name of the presidential palace. There actually are Herons in the compound.
Visitors are advised against walking around the Casco Viejo in unlit areas at night.
Located just outside the Casco Viejo, on the Plaza Cinco de Mayo is the Museo Antropológico Reina Torres de Araúz, with precious metal artifacts from pre-columbian Panama. This is a must-see for any visitor to Panama City. The museum is located on what was the Pacific terminus of the Panama Railroad which itself is an architecturally significant building. As of midsummer 2003, the material circumstances of the museum were precarious; in fact, in early 2003, most of the gold and silver collection of the museum was stolen. Fortunately the majority of the pieces, which date from 400 to 1500 AD, were recovered a few months later. Some of the artifacts however, are still missing. It has been reported that the museum staff is eager to assist visitors.
The area immediately east of the Pacific entrance of the canal is currently being developed as a major tourist center with many North-American style malls, hotels, discos and restaurants. Currently the Smithsonian Institute operates a station and a small museum open to the public on Culebra Island, just off the island of Naos (See inset). The noted American architect Frank Gehry known for the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum and the Disney Concert Center in Los Angeles, has designed a structure which will be built in this area. The structure, called The Bridge of Life museum is scheduled to be completed in 2007.
Visitors that wish to experience more of the local atmosphere are advised to look for accommodations nearer the commercial and financial center of the city, that is the neighborhoods of Bella Vista, Marbella or El Cangrejo.
Unfortunately, outside of a very small beach on Naos Island, there are no beaches in the city appropriate for swimming. Visitors might see the occasional urchin taking a dip during high tide, but they should beware: the waters are extremely polluted.
However, within a few hours drive there are many isolated beaches, particularly on the Caribbean side. In recent years real estate development has reduced the number of these beaches, although most these are still suitable for general recreation. Farther afield, visitors can travel to beaches in the interior, Bocas del Toro and the Archipiélago de las Perlas in the Gulf of Panama.
Getting to Panama City and getting around
Panama City's international airport is Tocumen International Airport located on the eastern outskirts of the city and easily accessible by a modern toll road from the financial district. Under normal traffic conditions travellers should allow 45 minutes to the airport from the financial district. Cab fare to and from the airport is about US$30, though many hotels provide shuttle service. Major car rental companies have facilities at the airport, but first-time visitors are advised to take a cab and rent a car at a city rental office. There are direct flights between Tocumen and Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Havana and all major cities in Central America and Colombia. Panama City also has an in-town airport Marcos A. Gelabert, in the area once occupied by Albrook Air Force Base . This airport serves domestic flights to the interior of Panama and the Las Perlas islands in the Pacific.
Panama City has an extensive system of public transportation implemented by a fleet of colorful buses. However, it is recommended that to get about town, first-time visitors should either rent a car, or should use taxis which are plentiful, safe and inexpensive. Most taxi fares within the city are under US$3. Air-conditioned buses are available from Panama City to most other parts of the country. These leave from a recently completed terminal near the Marcos A. Gelabert airport.
The Universidad de Panamá , Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá and Universidad Santa María la Antigua are the main institutions of higher learning in Panama City. Florida State University also has a campus in Panama City with a two-year program which allows students to continue in the main campus in Tallahassee, USA. Numerous other educational and cultural institutions are located in the city, and it was chosen to be the American Capital of Culture for the year 2003 (jointly, with Curitiba, Brazil).
Newspapers, online news, and guidebooks
Panama City has numerous daily newspapers, most with an online presence:
- La Prensa http://www.prensa.com
- EL Panamá América http://www.elpanamaamerica.com.pa
- La Estrella de Panamá http://www.estrelladepanama.com
The English language newspaper The Star & Herald suspended publication in 1987. It had started publication as The Panama Herald in 1851.
For news in English and commentary about politics, economics and society in Panama see the online publication
- The Panama News http://www.thepanamanews.com
A popular guide to Panama City (and beyond):
- Michèle Labrut, Getting to know Panama, Focus Publications (Int) S.A.
- Official website for Panama City: http://www.municipio.gob.pa
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