11. Cathedral


In 1535, with the arrival of Bishop Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the construction of the cathedral building was begun. Initially it was made of wood and of modest dimensions.  It was destroyed by fire in 1540.  Later there was an attempt to rebuild the Cathedral with masonry, but the enterprise was not feasible and possibly the new church wound up being a conventional wood and tiles construction.  By 1587 it was once more in a bad state and a new attempt was made to rebuild.  On this occasion it was once more not possible to build out of masonry, so it was built simply out of wood.  By 1610 its state of conservation was deplorable.

The current cathedral was built between 1619 and 1626 by initiative of bishop Francisco de Cámara. The stonemason Cristóbal de Armiñán was hired to make the new construction out of stone.  The remains of the building coincide with the description left us by Juan Requejo and Salcedo (1640): “it is all out of stone and masonry, paved with bricks, with three wide naves of considerable length, ten lumbres (approximately 40 meters) with shelving made out of a very strong wood that the earth produces called maría, with stone bases and the woodwork very well done out of cedar…”.  The effect that the 1644 fire had on the church is unknown.  The tower, in any case, was much more solidly built than the rest of the building.  Its functions were as a belfry and a watchtower.  Currently it is being used as a lookout.

One of the main characteristics of the Panama Viejo Cathedral is its inverted orientation, with the apse facing the sea, in other words, towards the South, and not towards the East, as is mandated by the canons.

The Cathedral tower was intervened to recuperate its use as a lookout, which currently allows visitors to enjoy a panoramic view of the colonial city and the modern city.  The way up consists of 115 steps divided into 3 levels, each level has a platform to rest and see museum information.