Elderly men chat amiably among the shaded benches and gazebos of cobblestoned Plaza Catedral, which sits at the heart of Casco Viejo and the old city. It’s also known as Plaza de la Independencia, in honour of the proclamations of independence from both Spain and Colombia that were issued here. The western side of the plaza is dominated by the classical facade of the cathedral. Built between 1688 and 1796, it was constructed using stones and three of the bells from the ruined cathedral of Panamá Viejo.
Across the square from the cathedral towers the half-restored facade of the Hotel Central, built to replace the Grand Hotel, which was, in its time, the plushest hotel in Central America. Southeast of the cathedral is the Neoclassical Palacio Municipal, whose small Museo de Historia Panameña offers a cursory introduction to Panamanian history.