Historical Panama: Transported Through the Ages

Museum of Biodiversity

Panama’s history as a transportation cross-roads of the Americas intrigued me.  On this ultra short six day trip, I steeped myself in canal history in the morning and Panama’s Spanish history in the afternoon. I learned just enough about Panama’s history to plan for a future trip.  Start studying Panama’s history at the Museum of Biodiversity. The museum, housed in world-renowned architect Frank Gehry’s most colorful building provides a timeline of Panama’s history, beginning with the volcanic eruptions that created the isthmus.

Panama's History in 3D
Panama History in Three Dimensions

From the start species moved back and forth across the newly created isthmus. This land bridge changed our world. Don’t miss the multi-dimensional movie on Panama’s history.

Many species moved across the isthmus
Species Movement Across the Isthmus of Panama

Visiting the Spanish Ruins

I visited three different historical sites, all UNESCO World heritage sites. Unfortunately, drizzle and grey skies marred these visits. It was, after all, the rainy season! I’ll be back some day on a bright sunny day to get better photos and experience all of Panama’s past. I barely had enough time for the canal and Spain.

South American riches traveled from South America, north to the Caribbean town of Portobelo, across the Panama isthmus on the cobbled Camino Real, through the Pacific coastal town of Panama Viejo (Old Panama City) and finally traveled on to Spain by ship. Through the eighteenth century British pirate attacks disrupted these Spanish settlements, not infrequently burning then to the ground. Casco Viejo finally replaced Panama Viejo, during the 19th century because of its more defensible location and port.  Time brought independence from Spain, inclusion in Gran Columbia and irrelevance.   In the 1840s, however, gold prospectors transited the isthmus on that same Spanish Camino Real to reach the Pacific Ocean and California. American speculators built a small railroad to transport the prospectors. Finally the canal saga began, first by the French and then the US.

Panama Viejo

Panama Viejo is open limited hours. The day I visited (a holiday) both the visitor’s center and the park were closed. I was able to see tops of the extensive ruins, including churches and schools, over the fence and at the entrance, though.  Apparently, large parts of the town, along with many other historical buildings, was dismantled to build the Panama canal. (Leave it to us to dismantle old historic buildings!). The town literally sits at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and on the day I was there, the water was simply a mud flat. It seemed an odd place for a port

Puente del Matadero, Panama Viejo

Historic Casco Viejo

Historic Casco Viejo (Panama City), more centrally located near modern-day downtown Panama City, is a work in progress. Panamanians have restored many old buildings as restaurants, coffee shops and museums. After a long day of touristing it was great to find the Casa Sucre Coffee House, one such repurposed building.

Casa Sucre Coffee House

Many historic churches have remained in Panama;  however, other buildings are still simply shells that will need much work.  Contrast this yet to be restored building with the Iglesia San Francisco de Asis.

Unfinished building Iglesia San Francisco de Asis

One can imagine extensive restoration producing a town similar to Florida’s St. Augustine.

Portobelo

Christopher Columbus named Portobelo when he visited in 1502. Portobelo became a major Spanish trading center, holding three-month long annual trading fairs at the peak of Spanish influence from the mid-sixteenth to early nineteenth century. My ecoCiruitos guides, Fabio and Roberto transported me into the center of this small town built amongst the ruins of this highly fortified town. Dark clouds threatened and when it began to rain  we moved quickly…not necessarily the ideal circumstances for photographing ruins. The extensive ruins of forts and the village show evidence of  tropical humidity and age the ruins as they are covered in soot, but they are otherwise in reasonably good shape for building of such age.

Camino Real: The Terminus to the Road to Panama Viejo

This area, like the ruins in Panama City is somewhat of a work in progress. The lovely restored customs house awaits content. It certainly has the bones to become an historical museum. This little slide show below is a sample of two and a half centuries of Spanish rule in Portobelo, including the forts and the customs house. With the Smithsonian Research Institute nearby, it seems that they would have another opportunity to develop a lovely regional museum here in Portobelo.

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The other attraction here, Iglesia de San Felipe, houses the Black Christ. Portobelo celebrates the Black Christ statue at an October 21st festival. The church was the last building that the Spanish built before leaving Panama.  Many believe that the Black Christ cures illness.

Two “New” Small Chicago Musems

Well a museum that has already been open for nine years isn’t exactly a new museum, but for a native anything that I didn’t visit on a YMCA field trip as a child, I classify as new.  I left Chicago for other parts during the 1980’s but have visited pretty much every year since.  Of course, visits with children tend to usually include lots of family events and visits to those tried and true museums I visited as a child.  But life moves on and since the kids are grown, we decided that the time has come for new explorations.

Unlike the lucky folks who live north, when we South Siders visit the central city it always requires planning.  Driving has never been an option. Even less so now that every Chicago parking spot requires an investment. Traveling downtown by public transportation usually means caging a ride from a willing family member or a long, tedious bus ride.

Riding the El in Chicago
Riding the El in Chicago

On this last visit when the weather was looking good, we caught a ride to the Orange Line and set out for the north loop. The Driehaus museum and the  recently opened American Writers Museum  are less than a mile apart and  we thought would be a great way to spend a day in the city.

We started at the Writers museum.  The lobby is lovely (despite snide comments in many reviews), with nifty elevator doors and a great looking guard desk. Ordinary, perhaps, when built, but now unique.

Museum Lobby

The American Writers Museum requires a slow ambling view, or you may miss the point here.

As with many small museums, one needs to look up, down and all around to truly appreciate the setting, as designers must work within a small space.  The museum entry has a ceiling covered in books and all walls display important info.

Museum Entrance
Look up at the Entry Canopy

The main hallway has authors in a chronologically ordered timeline.  Walk too quickly and you will miss moving the informational blocks to study different aspects of the writers. Clearly many of the authors will be known. I found it to be great, that I had somehow missed knowing about a few of these authors.  Flip the blocks and find out more or take a photo for future research. Each author has an in-depth discussion of why they were significant. I just started reading a book by Francis Parkman, one of America’s first travel writers.

Check out the word waterfall!  This, on the surface, looks to be simple phrases lighting up. A look through the camera lens reveals a 3D multimedia sculpture.

Book Scroll
Jack Kerouac’s Scroll of On the Road

A special exhibition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road included the original scroll. I’m a fan, but I did not realize that one of my favorite books was written in this fashion.  Very cool!

After a lunch at Protein and Kitchen Bar, a favorite, we set out for our next museum

A pleasant walk across the now sparking Chicago River (a shock to those of us with long memories) lies the Driehaus Museum.  This museum, housed in the former Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson had spent most of the twentieth century as headquarters for the American College of Surgeons. Philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus purchased the building in 2003. After a five years restoration,  the building now appears as it did in the 1800s.

Dramatic Entrance to the Driehaus Museum

The building houses surviving furnishings paired with elegant, historically appropriate pieces from the Driehaus Foundation  Collection of Fine and Decorative Arts. The first floor houses the collection and the second floor a rotating gallery.

Poster
Posters at a Special Exhibition

On this visit the gallery exhibition, an Art-Deco poster collection, featured five different artists.  The guides in the museum were incredibly helpful, offering many additional insights.

They have an amazing collection at the museum as the tradition of the time amongst the wealthy was to employ as many different crafts people to decorate and buy as many things as they could afford in order to impress their peers.  These buildings would have been completely packed with paintings and other artwork.

We certainly enjoyed our visit to these two “new” museums and look forward to finding more of these small gems.

I took these photos with an Olympus Tough as I was traveling light this trip.

Tiffany Lamp
The museum Houses an Impressive Tiffany Collection

Chicago’s Field Museum Historical Perspective

 

Chicago Field Museum
Chicago Field Museum

We changed our flight home to avoid Hurricane Hermine.  This turned out to be unnecessary as the storm missed us. Today we spent the day at the Field Museum.

 

First stop was the Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors and horses, date back to 221 BCE. These life-sized clay sculptures were buried with the first emperor of China to protect him in his afterlife. The eight figures plus artifacts are samples from a much larger Chinese collection of at least 7000 warriors. Much of that has not been excavated. I had seen these in 1980, the last time they were at the museum.

Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors

 

Terracotta Warriors
Warriors in China
Warrior Exhibition
Warrior Exhibition

 

The museum dates back to the early 1920s.  I was curious what besides the structure dated back to the early days of the museum.

 

The first thing that I found was  this amazing little diorama of an idyllic Indian Village.

Native Village
Early museum diorama

Original Exhibit

 

 

These bronzes are from the 1920s

Bronzes
Bronzes at the Field Museum

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These murals, created between 1926 and 1930, provided backgrounds for decades of exhibitions.

Museum mural

Museum Mural
Museum Mural
Murals
Did you know?

 

The building has held up well and sits on the lake with sweeping views of the city and the lake through the windows and off the verandas.

Scenic Doors
Scenic Doors
Fabulous Staircase
Fabulous Staircase

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art Institute of Chicago

 

Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago

On my last trip to Chicago, my oldest daughter and I visited the Art Institute. This trip my husband visited. I hadn’t been to the museum in years. The attraction was an exhibition of my favorite kind of artwork: art from the 1930s.  The exhibition, titled, America After the Fall, will close on September 28th, so there is still time to see it before it ends.

America After the Fall
America After the Fall

 

 

If you haven’t been for a while take some time to relax in the outdoor Museum Café, as we did, and listen to music in the afternoon.

Museum Cafe
Museum Cafe