Tuesday, June 1, 2010

#305 Panama...Thanks Freddy!

The 4 stamps on the upper left were issued in 2002 showing Murals in Palacio de las Garzas by Panama artist Roberto Lewis.

Palacio de las Garzas (Herons' Palace) is the governmental residence of the President of Panama during his/her mandate. It receives its name because herons were brought in in 1922 by President Belisario Porras at the suggestion of friend and famed Panamanian poet Ricardo Miro. The interior courtyard that serves as vestibule was then remodeled in the style of an Andalusian courtyard and the herons roam the courtyard freely.

The residence is located in the Old Quarter of Panama City (Casco Viejo) which was built after the old city was destroyed just prior and during the sacking by pirate Henry Morgan. It has served as the residence and main office for all Panamanian presidents except for the last three (Martin Torrijos, Mireya Moscoso, and Ernesto Perez Balladares) who have chosen to keep their residences elsewhere in the city and commute to the Palace.

Some of its famous rooms include the Salón Amarillo (Yellow Room) where most formal events are held, the Salón de los Tamarindos (Tamarinds's tree) and the Salón Morisco (Moorish Room).

The 2 stamps on the right is from 2001 America issue: UNESCO World Heritage showing Castle of San Lorenzo and Panama City.

The fort at San Lorenzo was first built during the late 16th century. King Philip II of Spain ordered a fortress to be built to overlook the mouth of the Rio Chagres which was heavily used by commerce and slaves ships. This entry was also the easiest route for marauding pirates and buccaneers looking for booty, and the location of the fort provided an excellent view of any approaching ships. Unfortunately, this first fort was made of wood and and began to deteriorate in the humid and rainy climate of Panama's six-month long rainy seasons. Between the rotting wood and the attacks by pirates, it began to deteriorate and eventually fell, helped along by the pirate and slaver, Francis Drake, who set fire to it in 1596. He had been ambitiously attacking ports along the coast searching for Spanish treasure. Less than a year later, Drake was dead of a tropical disease and buried at sea off the Atlantic coast of Panama. Tropical diseases, starvation, and poisonous snakes was the cause of many of the marauders' deaths for crossing Panama was a dangerous journey.

The fort was eventually rebuilt but in 1671, it was captured by Joseph Bradley who was under orders from Henry Morgan, the infamous pirate. There were approximately 350 people stationed at the fort and in the battle, all but 30 died, with no officers being left alive. Bradley lost approximately 100 of his own men with many injured. Morgan arrived less than a week later and soon afterwards, Bradley died of his own wounds. Morgan did not destroy the fort at this time but instead continued with his plans to destroy Panama Viejo ("Old Panama") by returning to the Pacific side. During this time, Portobelo (also spelled as Porto Bello), another important trading and treasure port, had also been attacked by pirates, including Morgan, and Spaniards alike, both whom had been waging a deadly battle for control due to it's important location on the coast. Another fort was established there by the Spaniards and some of the ruins remain standing today as they do at Fort San Lorenzo. For weeks, Morgan raped and looted Panama, leaving nothing by stone ruins, and when his appetite was finally sated, he returned to Fort San Lorenzo where he and his men rested and regrouped. However, he also made the decision during this time to sail for Jamaica so when leaving, he set fire to what remained of the fort and burnt it to the ground. A year later, Morgan returned to England where he spent three years and after making friends with royalty, was appointed Acting Governor for the Duke of Albermarle and Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, along with a number of other important offices. The Duke arrived in 1687 take over the governorship and Morgan died the next year in Port Royal.

The fort was rebuilt by the Spaniards in a slightly higher location, an odd-shaped cliff, this time using masonry. But records for the following years are sketchy, probably due to lack of any major battles at the site, so little information is known. But in March 1740, a British Admiral, Sir Edward Vernon, acting under orders from Britain to capture Portobelo and Fort San Lorenzo, bombarded the fort with his ship's cannons until the Spaniards gave up. After plundering the buildings and taking what they found, Vernon's men set fire to one of the buildings, destroyed the "castle" then sailed away for Portobelo. In 1761, the fort was repaired and fortified but never again attacked by pirates. It gradually lost its importance as the years went by but in the first decades of the 19th century, after Panama gained its' independence from Spain but became the property of Colombia, it was once again in use but this time as a prison. When the 49ers poured into Panama with dreams of gold lying on the ground in California, it became a main traveling point for crossing the isthmus to Panama, where the 49ers needed to catch the ships to California. But it once again fell into obscurity when the Panama Railroad was completed and the travel routes changed.

Panama La Vieja (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 15 August 1519. This city was the starting point of the expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru (1532). It also was a stopover point of 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.

Currently under a revitalization process, Casco Viejo is a mix of different architectural styles, which reflects the cultural diversity of the country. Caribbean, Republican, Art Deco, French and Colonial mix in a site of less than 800 buildings. Most of Panama´s City´s main monuments are located in Casco Viejo: The Salón Bolivar, the main Cathedral, the National Theatre (founded in 1908).

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