Panama’s Museums

July 22nd, 2015
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There is much to marvel at

Panama is a country rich in history, culture and biodiversity.   Its many museums reflect the nation’s multifaceted nature. The majority of them fall under jurisdiction of Panama’s National  Institute  of  Culture  (INAC), whose  director,  Mariana  Núñez de  Haugland,  actively  promotes all  expressions  of  Panamanian identity.

There  is  much  to  marvel  at, from the miracles of evolution at the  Museum  of  Biodiversity  and the  pre-Colombian  artifacts  in the  Reina  Torres de Araúz  Museum in Panama City to the mysterious  archaeological  site  of  El Caño in Coclé.

Biomuseo

A view of the Biomuseo on the Amador Causeway looking over the bay.
Vista del Biomuseo en la Calzada de Amador frente a la bahía.

Museo de la BiodiversidadMuseum of Biodiversity

Amador Causeway, Panama City

The Museum of Biodiversity, in Amador, extravagantly designed by Frank Gehry, opened in 2014. A park with  panoramic  views  of  the  ships  at the  Pacific  entrance  to  the  Canal  features  endemic  plants  while  within  the iconic building multimedia exhibitions tell the story of the isthmus of Panama over the eons. The “Biomuseo” (as it is known in Spanish) has quickly become one of the country’s most visited destinations. It demonstrates the unique role the isthmus has played since it rose out of the sea forming a land bridge across the continent and dividing the oceans, creating a land of immense diversity of plant species, birds and mammals.

Anthropological Museum / Museo Antropológico

Indigenous chiefs dined in style, as this magnificent carved platter at the Anthropological Museum demonstrates.
Los jefes indígenas cenaban con estilo como se demuestra en este magnífico plato tallado en el Museo Antropológico.

Reina  Torres  de Araúz Anthropological Museum

Ave. Juan Pablo 11, Llanos de Curundu, Panama City

Containing  over  15,000  pieces  of gold,  ceramic,  stone  and  other  ethnic exhibits,  this  museum  also  hosts  special  exhibitions,  workshops  seminars and congresses. The Gold Room (Salon  de   Oro)  is  an  impressive  feature of the main hall which also houses exhibits of the ancient Barriles culture of indigenous  people  in  the  province  of Chiriqui.

The  museum  occupies  a  modern four-storey building  and  is  a  monument  to  the  pre-Columbian  history  of Panama  which  ranges  from  the  first inhabitants  of  the  isthmus  more  than 10,000  years  ago  up  to  the  arrival  of the Spanish conquistadores.

Historical Museum / Museo Histórico

The Historical Museum displays fascinating artifacts and ornaments.
El Museo Histórico tiene muestras de fascinantes artefactos y adornos.

Historical Museum

Ave. 6, Central, Plaza Catedral, San Felipe (Old Town), Panama City

Housed  in  the  original  Municipal Palace  built  in  1910,  the  Historical Museum shows the three periods of the country’s history: the colonial ( 1501 – 1821), the departmental (1821 – 1903) when  Panama  was  part  of  Colombia, and the republican period (1903 – present day).

Natural Science Museum

Ave. Cuba and Calles 29 and 30, Bella Vista, Panama City

You can take an ecological tour in the city at this museum. Many exhibits stress the importance of protection of Panama’s natural resources and endangered species.  The Harpy Eagle, Panama’s National bird is there along with the beautiful Quetzal and Guacamaya.  Reptiles, too, from boas to the spectacular Green Iguana.  Amphibians include the rare Golden Frogs. Of the insect world, the gorgeous “Royal Blue” butterfly, common in all the rainforests, is the star.

Afro-Antillean Museum / Museo Afroantillano

The Afro-Antillean Museum in Panama City.
El Museo Afroantillano en la Ciudad de Panamá.

The Afro-Antillean MuseumEl Museo AfroantillanoAfro-Antillean Museum

Calle 21 and Ave. Justo Arosemena, Calidonia, Panama City

This museum, which celebrates the part  played  by  West  Indians  of  African descent in the construction of the Panama  Canal  and  their  subsequent contribution to the culture of Panama, is housed in a quaint wooden building built in 1909 by a group of Barbadian canal workers who held religious meetings there.

Bolívar Museum

Plaza Bolívar, San Felipe (OldQuarter), Panamá City

In this former Franciscan convent, the  Bolivarian  Congress  was  held  in 1826,  called  by  the  South  American “liberator” Simón Bolívar and attended by  representatives  of  Gran  Colombia, Mexico,  Peru  and  Central  America and  observers  from  Great  Britain  and the  Low  Countries.  The museum celebrates the ambition of Bolívar to form a confederation of states which were then Spanish colonies.

Museo Ricardo J. Alfaro

Ricardo J Alfaro Museum

Calle 44 and Calle Colombia, Bella Vista, Panama City

Celebrating the life and work of a celebrated Panamanian, Dr. Ricardo J. Alfaro with archives and memorabilia.

Portobello Customs House Museum

Portobello, Provincial de Colon

The restored Customs House in the former fortified town of Portobelo on the Caribbean coast is now a museum. Portobelo is famous for its fairs in the days  of  the  Spanish  conquest  when galleons  would  arrive  with  European goods  from  Spain  and  load  up  with gold and silver from Peru destined for the  coffers  of  the  Spanish  king.   The impressive Renaissance-style building was constructed between 1630 and 1634. Apart from a number of artifacts from  the  period,  the  museum  offers  a small  theatre  where  a  video  showing the route of the galleons and their precious  cargo  and  the  importance  of  the port which once attracted the bellicose attentions  of  the  British  privateer,  Sir Francis Drake who is believed to have been buried in the bay.

Portobelo Customs House / Casa de la Aduana de Portobelo

The well preserved and restored Customs House at Portobelo on the Caribbean coast tells the story of the Spanish Main and the route of the gold and silver plundered from the Incas.
La bien conservada y restaurada Casa de la Aduana en Portobelo, en la costa del Caribe, cuenta la historia de los conquistadores españoles y de la ruta del oro y plata saqueados a los Incas.

José Domingo de Obaldía Museum

Ave. 8 Este, David, Chiriqui

Celebrating  the  life  of  the  lawyer and politician, a native son of the province, this museum is located in the former  Obaldía  family  home,  of  historic and architectural interest for its Spanish style. The museum deals with the pre-Columbian and colonial eras including a salon devoted to religious art. Another salon recreates the lifestyle and social character of the old Obaldía family, with original furniture and memorabilia.

Contemporary Art Museum

Panama City

Art connoisseurs can sample the country’s burgeoning talent at the Contemporary Art Museum (MAC).

Panama Canal Museum / Museo del Canal de Panamá

The Panama Canal Museum in Panama’s Old Quarter.
El Museo del Canal de Panamá, en el Casco Antiguo de la Ciudad de Panamá.

Panama Canal Museum

Cathedral Plaza, Casco Antiguo, Panama City

This is a non-profit, public museum devoted to the history of the construction of the Panama Canal in its various stages, including the first French construction attempt, the later construction by the United States and the eventual transfer to Panamanian control.  The current  building  dates  from  1874  and served  originally  as  the  headquarters of both the French and U.S. companies engaged in the construction of the canal. More information at MuseoDelCanal.com

Museums of the interior provinces

The provinces of The Azuero Peninsula, including Coclé and Veraguas in the central part of the country, were the first areas to be colonized after the Spanish  Conquest  and  it  is  here  that much  of  the  history  and  folklore  of the isthmus resides. A number of small museums are scattered throughout these provinces.

Cubitá Museum

The city of Chitré, the capital of the province of Herrera, is now home to the first privately managed museum in the Azuero Peninsula. Inaugurated last September, the Cubitá Museum is located at the Boutique Resort & Spa of the same name.

Penonomé Museum /

The Penonomé Museum in the province of Coclé.
El Museo de Penonomé en la provincia de Coclé.

Penonome Museum

Located in the San Antonio district, the museum is actually a group of houses typical of the “interior” as these provinces are collectively called.  Precolombian Panama is represented with an  unequalled  collection  of  “huacas”, the  ceramic  art  of  the  ancient  people. Many pieces from Coclé are to be found in exhibits at the universities of Harvard and Pennsylvania.

Salt and Sugar Museum / Museo de la Sal y del Azúcar

The Salt and Sugar Museum.
El Museo de la Sal y del Azúcar.

Salt and Sugar Museum

Museo Regional Stella Sierra

At Aguadulce, Coclé, the name speaks for itself — the economic base of the area.

El Caño Archaeological Park / Parque Arqueológico El Caño

Carved figures on an impressive circle of plinths at El Caño were hacked off and sent to the Indian American Museum in New York in 1926.
Figuras talladas en un círculo impresionante de zócalos en El Caño fueron cortadas y enviadas al Museo Indio Americano en Nueva York en 1926.

El Caño Archaeological Park

In  the  district  of  Natá  in  the  province of Coclé, this park was first discovered in 1926 by a North American, Hyatt Verrill, who was commissioned to excavate it by the Heye Foundation which shipped to the Indian American Museum  in  New York  a  valuable  collection of stone columns with carved heads and megaliths.

El Caño is believed to have been a  ceremonial  religious  and  burial  site which  flourished  around  800  BC.  In recent  years  several  groups  of  tombs  have  been  excavated  and  can  be viewed  by  visitors. A museum at the park contains many of the gold and ceramic relics found in the tombs.

Herrera Museum

At Chitré, the capital of the province  of  Herrera,  this  is  the  largest  museum of the region and covers a broad spectrum,  including  the  “Ecological Corner” demonstrating the geography, flora and fauna. Rural life and customs are  well  represented,  with  everything from  trapiches  (wooden  sugar  cane presses)  to  musical  instruments  and costumes and masks for religious festivals.

Nationality Museum / Museo Nacional de la Heróica Villa de Los Santos

Weapons of the conquistadores on show at the Nationality Museum of the Heroic Villa de Los Santos.
Muestra de armas pertenecientes a los conquistadores en el Museo Nacional de la Heróica Villa de Los Santos.

Nationality Museum of the Heroic Villa de Los Santos

It  was  at  Villa  de  Los  Santos  on November  10,  1821  that  the  first  cry for  independence  from  Spain  was made. The  town’s  museum  celebrates this  event  and  much  more,  including exhibits  concerning  the  fighting  between Spanish settlers and Indian tribes —- swords, lances, rifles and pistols of the conquistadores and stone axes and arrowheads, slings and spears of the indigenous warriors.

Manuel Zárate Museum

At Guararé, Los Santos province, home of the famous Mejorana folklore festival, the Manuel F. Zárate Museum, housed in a tiny, typical colonial-style adobe dwelling, celebrates the rich cultural heritage of the region, exhibiting the most ancient polleras in the country as well as musical costumes and devil masks used in the Corpus Christi and other religious celebrations.

Belisario Porras Museum

This museum at Las Tablas is dedicated to one of Panama’s most famous presidents, Dr.  Belisario Porras who served three terms, 1912 to 1916, 1918 to 1920 and 1920 to 1924. It was a period of significant growth for the young republic, finding its feet after independence from Colombia in 1903.  Many major projects were completed under the stewardship of Dr. Porras including the Chiriqui Railroad, the National Highway, the National Archive and the Santo Tomás Hospital, the plazas and monuments to Balboa and France and the Exposición neighborhood.

Another  museum  is  the  Pausilipo Museum,  also  in  the  Las  Tablas  district.  El Pausilipo is the name of his country estate.

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