October 5, 2010
The City of Panama in 1855
In the year of 1855, Mr. Roberto Tomes published a book
titled "PANAMA IN 1855" based on his experiences while visiting the
Isthmus. This is an excerpt from that book as published in the Magazine
"Loteria" in 1945 and reproduced in "Epocas" in March 1991.
The visiting Yankees separated into several groups in order to
observe the city in the most effective manner. Some of them chose to roam
the narrow streets of the city, purchasing Panama hats in the small stores and
looking at the young girls dressed in typical attire who looked down from wooden
balconies that throw their shadows across the street. Others chose to walk
into old churches, almost in ruins, entering through arched gateways, some
almost hidden by brushwood and weeds that grow in every crack almost to
the altars where the statues of Mary and Joseph still stand. A young
woman, kneeling, prays while a feeble old man, shakily stands praying next
to one of the images carved from wood.
Santo Domingo Church with the Flat Arch
The Yankee visitors, turn on their heels and quickly depart the
church and head for one of the several "cantinas" located in the
neighborhood. There, the bartenders, dressed in white linen jackets
prepare drinks for our brothers from the north, whose glassy eyes, pale faces
and shaky hands tell the effects of the climate and the frequent visits to the
saloons. Two mulato boys are entertaining themselves playing pool while
half a dozen Frenchmen and Spaniards play dominoes in the porch, refreshing
themselves with beer. The America feels at home here because he can hear
his own language expressed in incomparable elegance. He observes the many
rows of crystal bottles arranged to make a kaleidoscope of colors and
Narrow and unpaved streets in Panama.
"Along the narrow alleys, some of us (the fore mentioned
Yankees) walk out into the plaza which we find deserted except that here
and there we might spot a mule laden down with a cargo of iron, a small group of
black children, stark naked, playing on the church steps, a line of slaves being
walked by a mulato guard toward the prison. From the plaza, down one
street, lined with large stone houses, we see the arch of the old gate of the
walls that surround the city and we see the waters of the bay that shine under
the rays of the sun. We take that route, passing by buildings recently
painted in white and at this burning hot Noon, we see the flag with the bars and
stars, and in the balcony, the American Consul, who is doing his best
to cool himself. Recognizing us, he invites us to join him in a
brandy and water at the Consulate. In front of that building is the office
of the Panama-Star, where the reporters that form a part of our group have
announced our arrival. Continuing our walk through the wall gate, we come
to a building that looks as a prison from where, through the heavily barred
windows, there must be an excellent view of the bay. We have no doubt that
the poor Nuns that are there, in recluse - because this building is
a convent - enjoy this view which is probably the only exterior
world that is left to them.
Abandoned Convent with a view to the bay.
Las Bobedas sea wall.
Las Bobedas are the best stroll in the city. Its ruined
walls, full of sentry boxes and holes caused by time and weather, its dismantled
cannons, which were brought hundreds of years ago from Barcelona, Spain, to
defend the city, offer a melancholic view of decadence. But the
foundations, placed some two hundred years ago on top of rocky shore have
resisted the waves of the ocean. Las Bobedas rise from a point which
projects towards the sea as an earthen tongue on which the city is
situated. In front of us we see groups of islands, covered in green, that
extend along the bay. There we find Taboga and Taboguilla, some ten miles
away, with their coves full of small fishing vessels.
Nearer by are the islands of Flamenco, Pericos and Naos with their coconut trees
rising over the surface of their beaches."
Perico and Flamenco Islands
- Luis R. Celerier