14.Royal houses

14. Royal Houses

Casas Reales

The Royal Houses constituted the real power center of Panama City, as the offices of the royal government were located there: The Royal Treasury, the Royal Court, the court prison, the governor’s residence and other official rooms.  This vast complex that arose in several phases throughout the XVI century was protected by a palisade, and a moat separated it from the rest of the city.  Its location was the most salubrious due to the bare rock that served as the foundation for the complex, and due to its dominant position over the city and the sea. Its location was considered for the construction of a fortress that would have sufficient capacity to store goods and treasures.

In the1580s the Royal Houses consisted of six buildings made of wood and stone.  Bautista Antonelli – charged together with Juan de Texeda with fortifying the cities in the Americas, including Panama and Portobello – presented in his drawings of the city in 1586 a building of grand proportions, which it would seem doubles its dimensions by 60 to 120 meters.  The expenses caused by its construction and maintenance became a heavy load for the Royal Treasury.  For example, in 1589 a letter from a member of the Court explained that the hall of the Royal Court is made of stone, but next to it there are six wooden houses that require constant maintenance.

There is a perspective drawing that dates back to 1590, which shows a building surrounded by a wooden palisade made up of a complex of  three levels, with a gabled roof and two floors, with a masonry main body and two wooden side buildings.  On the drawing it reads “Royal Treasury house, made of boards”, “prison and Court house, of stone”, and “President’s house, made of boards”.

In 1609, Cristóbal de Roda, Antonelli’s nephew, who continued with his task of fortifying the place, projected the construction of the Royal Houses together with a fort or castle to connect them.  It would seem that this project was not realized.

The 1621 earthquake caused serious damage to the building.  The imperfections were repaired, but soon the building was once more in terrible state, and it would seem that in 1647 the Royal Houses were demolished with the intention of building a new headquarters for this purpose.  Nothing is known about this new building, except the proposal of 1641 designed by Antonio de Fonseca y Oriochea.

After the destruction and abandonment of the city, the tides eroded much of the walls of the Royal Houses and in the middle of the XX Century a police station was built next to these structures, which grew little by little.  By the 1970s and 1980s, the Defense Forces, taking into account the site’s strategic location, built great amounts of infrastructure on top of the Royal Houses, including a heliport.