Panama City (Spanish: Panamá) is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Panama. It has a population of 880,691, with a total metro population of 1,272,672, and it is located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, in the province of Panama. The city is the political and administrative center of the country as well as a hub for international banking and commerce. It is considered a Beta World City and the most important city of Central America.
With an average GDP per capita of $11,700, Panama has been among the top five places for retirement in the world, according to International Living magazine. Panama City has a dense skyline of mostly highrise buildings, and it is surrounded by a large belt of tropical rainforest. Panama's Tocumen International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in Central America, offers daily flights to major international destinations.
Panama City was founded on August 15, 1519, by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila. The city was the starting point for expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. It was a stopover point on one of the most important trade routes in the history of the American continent leading to the fairs of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo, where most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Americas passed through.
On January 21, 1673, the city was destroyed by a fire when pirate Henry Morgan sacked and set fire to it. The city was formally reestablished two years later on January 21, 1675, in a peninsula located 8 km from the original settlement. The site of the previously devastated city is still in ruins and is now a popular tourist attraction known as Panama Viejo.
Panama is located between the Pacific Ocean and tropical rain forest. The Parque Natural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Nature Park), stretching from Panama City along the Panama Canal, has unique bird species and other animals such as tapir, puma, and caimans. At the Pacific entrance of the canal is the Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas (Marine Exhibitions Center), a research center for those interested in tropical marine life and ecology. The center is managed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Tropical forests around Panama are vital for the functioning of the Panama Canal, providing it with the water required for its operation (a rare example of a vast engineering project in the middle of the forest, which actually helped to preserve that forest). Due to the importance of the canal to the Panamanian economy, tropical forests around the canal have been kept in an almost pristine state. Along the western side of the canal is the Parque Nacional Soberania (Sovereignty National Park), which includes Summit botanical gardens and a zoo. The best known trail in this national park is Pipeline Road, popular among birdwatchers.
Under the Köppen climate classification, Panama City has a tropical wet and dry climate. Panama City sees 1900 mm of precipitation annually. The wet season spans from May through December, and the dry season spans from January through April. Temperatures remain constant throughout the year, averaging around 27.3 °C (81.1 °F).
|Climate data for Panama City (1971-2000)|
|Average high °C (°F)||33.4 |
|Daily mean °C (°F)||26.0 |
|Average low °C (°F)||24.0 |
|Precipitation mm (inches)||29.3 |
|Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm)||2.9||1.3||1.4||4.9||15.0||16.0||14.0||15.0||17.0||20.0||16.0||7.5||131|
|Source: World Meteorological Organization|
Panama's old quarter features many architectural styles, from Spanish colonial buildings to French and Antillean townhouses built during the construction of the Panama Canal. The more modern areas of the city have many high-rise buildings, which together form a very dense skyline. There are currently more than 110 high-rise projects being constructed, with 127 high-rise buildings already built. The city holds the 40th place in the world by high-rise buildings count.
The Centennial Bridge that crosses the Panama Canal earned the American Segmental Bridge Institute prize of excellence, along with seven other bridges in the Americas.
The city is located in the Panama District, although its metropolitan area also includes the San Miguelito District and some populated areas from the opposite side of the Panama Canal. As in the rest of the country, districts are divided into corregimientos, in which there are many smaller boroughs. The old quarter, known as Casco Viejo, is located in the corregimiento of San Felipe. Twelve other corregimientos along with San Felipe form the urban centre of the city, including Santa Ana, El Chorrillo, Calidonia, Curundú, Ancón, Bella Vista, San Francisco, Parque Lefevre and Río Abajo.
Being the economic and financial center of the country, Panama City's economy is service-based, heavily weighted toward banking, commerce, and tourism. The economy depends significantly on trade and shipping activities associated with the Panama Canal and port facilities located in Balboa. The city has benefited from significant economic growth in recent years, mainly due to the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal, an increase in real estate investment, and a relatively stable banking sector. There are around eighty banks in the city, at least fifteen of which are national.
Panama City is responsible for the production of approximately 55% of the country's GDP. This is because most Panamanian businesses and premises are located in the city and its metro area. It is a stopover for other destinations in the country as well as a tourist destination in itself.
Tourism is one of the most important economic activities in terms of revenue generation. The city's hotel occupancy rate has always been relatively high, reaching the second highest for any city outside the United States in 2008, after Perth, Australia, and followed by Dubai. However, hotel occupancy rates have dropped since 2009, probably due to the opening of many new luxury hotels. Several international hotel chains, such as Le Méridien, Radisson, and RIU, have opened or plan to open new hotels in the city, along with those previously operating under Marriott, Sheraton, InterContinental, and other foreign and local brands. Also, the Trump Organization is currently building the Trump Ocean Club, its first investment in Latin America, and Hilton Worldwide recently opened its first Hilton Garden Inn Panama at Eusebio A. Morales Avenue and 49A Street West, and plans to open The Panamera, the first Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Latin America.
The city proper has around 880,691 inhabitants in 23 boroughs. The inhabitants of the city are commonly referred to as capitalinos, and include large numbers of Afro-Panamanians, mestizos, and mulattos, with notable white and Asian minorities.
World Heritage Sites
Panamá Viejo ("Old Panama") is the name used for the architectural vestiges of the Monumental Historic Complex of the first Spanish city founded on the Pacific coast of the Americas by Pedro Arias de Avila on August 15, 1519. This city was the starting point for the expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru in 1532. It was a stopover point on one of the most important trade routes in the history of the American continent, leading to the famous fairs of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo, where most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Americas passed through.
The committee decided to inscribe this property on the basis of cultural criteria (ii), (iv) and (vi), considering that Panama was the first European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas, in 1519, and the Historic District preserves intact a street pattern along with a substantial number of early domestic buildings, which are testimony to the nature of this early settlement.
Casco Viejo or Casco Antiguo
Built and settled in 1671 after the destruction of Panama Viejo by the privateer Henry Morgan, the historic district of Panama City (known as Casco Viejo, Casco Antiguo, or San Felipe) was conceived as a walled city to protect its settlers against future pirate attacks. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003.
Casco Antiguo displays a mix of architectural styles, which in turn reflect the cultural diversity of the country: Caribbean, Republican, art deco, French, and colonial architecture mix in a site comprising around 800 buildings. Most of Panama City's main monuments are located in Casco Antiguo, including the Salón Bolivar, the National Theater (founded in 1908), Las Bóvedas, and Plaza de Francia. There are also many Catholic buildings, such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the La Merced Church, and the St. Philip Neri Church. The distinctive golden altar at St. Joseph Church was one of the few items saved from Panama Viejo during the 1671 pirate siege. It was buried in mud during the siege and then secretly transported to its present location.
- The Future of Casco Viejo
Currently undergoing redevelopment, the old quarter has become one of the city's main tourist attractions, second only to the Panama Canal. Both government and private sectors are working on its restoration. However, a construction project proposed by President Ricardo Martinelli has recently proven controversial. Named "Cinta Costera 3", this project includes the construction of a maritime highway viaduct all around the Casco Antiguo. Proponents claim the road will ease traffic congestion in the city while "[causing] a positive dialog between [the] highly contrasting areas of the city."  Opponents of the $776.9-million project say the road will ruin the view of the horizon from the Casco Antiguo and that there are alternatives to the viaduct (such as a tunnel) that could protect the "integrity" of the place. Much of the controversy surrounding the project involves the possibility that Casco Viejo will lose its World Heritage status. On June 28, 2012, UNESCO decided that Casco Viejo will not be put on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger, while affirming the importance that further studies be conducted to demonstrate the project will not be culturally detrimental to Casco Viejo and that the viaduct is the "most viable option".
According to Professor Rodrigo Miró, the first story about Panama was written by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés and published as part of the Historia General y Natural de Las Indias in 1535. Some poets and novelists born in Panamá city are Manuel María Ayala (1785–1824), Amelia Denis de Icaza (1836–1911), Darío Herrera (1870–1914), Ricardo Miró (1883–1940), Gaspar Octavio Hernández (1893–1918), Demetrio Korsi (1899–1957), Ricardo Bermúdez (1914–2000), Joaquín Beleño (1922–88), Ernesto Endara (1932–), Diana Morán (1932–87), José Córdova (1937–), Pedro Rivera (1939–), Moravia Ochoa López (1941–), Roberto Fernández Iglesias (1941–), Jarl Ricardo Babot (1946–), Giovanna Benedetti (1949–), Manuel Orestes Nieto (1951–), Moisés Pascual (1955–), Héctor Miguel Collado (1960–), David Robinson Orobio (1960–), Katia Chiari (1969–), Carlos Oriel Wynter Melo (1971–), José Luis Rodríguez Pittí (1971–), and Sofía Santim (1982–).
The city has numerous tourist attractions. Particularly interesting for tourists are sites located in the old quarter, including:
- Las Bóvedas ("The Vaults"), a waterfront promenade jutting out into the Pacific;
- The National Institute of Culture Building and the French embassy across from it;
- The Cathedral at Plaza de la Catedral;
- Teatro Nacional, an intimate performance center with outstanding natural acoustics and seating for about 800 guests;
- Museo del Canal Interoceánico (Interoceanic Canal Museum); and
- Palacio de las Garzas (Heron's Palace), the official name of the presidential palace, named for the numerous herons that inhabit the building.
The area immediately east of the Pacific entrance of the canal—known as the Amador Causeway—is being developed as a tourist center and nightlife destination. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute operates a station and a small museum open to the public at Culebra Point on the island of Naos. A new museum, the Museum of Biodiversity or BioMuseo, is under construction on the causeway. It was designed by the American architect Frank Gehry, famous for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Just outside the city limits is the Parque Municipal Summit.
Throughout the 20th century, Panama City has excelled in boxing, baseball, basketball, and football. These sports have produced famous athletes such as Roberto Durán, Rommel Fernández, Rolando Blackman, Mariano Rivera, and Rod Carew. Today, these sports have clubs and associations that manage their development in the city. Panama Metro is the city's baseball team. There are boxing training centers in different gyms throughout the city's neighborhoods. There are also many football clubs, such as:
- Plaza Amador
The city has four professional teams in the country's second level league, Liga Nacional de Ascenso:
- Atlético Nacional
- Deportivo Genesis
- Río Abajo
There are two main stadiums in Panama City, the National Stadium (also known as Rod Carew Stadium) and the Rommel Fernández Stadium, with capacities of 27,000 and 32,000 respectively. Additionally, the Roberto Durán gymnasium has a capacity of 18,000.
The city has public and private schools, some of which are bilingual. Higher education is headed by the two major public universities: the University of Panama and the Technological University of Panama. There are private universities, such as the Universidad Católica Santa María La Antigua, the Open University, and the Universidad del Istmo. The University of Louisville runs a sister campus in the city, while Florida State University operates a broad curriculum program, located in the academic and technological park known as Ciudad del Saber.
Panama City is home to at least 14 hospitals and an extensive network of public and private clinics, including the Hospital Santo Tomás, Hospital del Niño, Complejo Hospitalario Arnulfo Arias Madrid, Centro Médico Paitilla, Hospital Nacional, Clinica Hospital San Fernando, and Hospital Punta Pacifica.
Around 45% of the country's physicians are located in Panama City. Most Panamanian doctors receive their degrees from local universities, although some receive additional U.S. or foreign training. The standards at the top hospitals compare favorably to those in the United States. Panama City is a common destination for medical tourism.
Panama's international airport, Tocumen International Airport, has two runways and is located on the eastern outskirts of the city. There are direct flights between Tocumen and the United States, some European cities, and all major cities in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, like Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, and Lima. Panama City has a regional airport, Marcos A. Gelabert, located in an area once occupied by Albrook Air Force Base. Marcos A. Gelabert Airport is the main hub for regional flights within Panama and the Pearl Islands in the Pacific and Bocas del Toro islands in the Caribbean.
There are frequent traffic jams in Panama City due to the high levels of private transport ownership per mile of traffic lane. In an attempt to curb traffic jams, President Ricardo Martinelli has brought forward a citywide metro system, initially 14 km long, stretching across the city. This new metro system, along with the Metrobus, will replace the current public transportation system.
The bus terminal located in Ancon offers buses in and out of the city. Bus service is one of the most widely used forms of transportation in Panama. The terminal receives thousands of passengers daily from locations like David, Chiriqui, and the central provinces of Herrera and Los Santos. The terminal also receives international passengers from Central America via the Pan-American Highway.
Panama City offers transportation services through yellow taxis. Taxis do not use a meter to measure fares, instead using a zone system for fares that is published by the Autoridad de Transito y Transporte Terrestre, Panama's transit authority. Major vehicle rental companies are located at the airports.
Although Panama City is modernizing its public transportation system, it is still common to see a form of public transportation consisting of colorfully painted buses, colloquially known as diablos rojos. A diablo rojo is usually painted with bright colors, usually depicting famous actors, politicians, or singers. It is popular for bus drivers to customize the interior and exterior of their diablo rojo.
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