After Panama Viejo was destroyed in 1671, the city of Panama was rebuilt in 1673 in the area now referred to as El Casco Viejo (The Old Helmet). El Casco Viejo is also known as Casco Antiguo or the San Felipe district. El Casco Viejo was surrounded by a massive wall to protect it from invaders.
El Casco Viejo is a tourist area with the original Spanish architecture, scenic plazas and cobblestone streets. In the center of El Casco Viejo is the Plaza de la Independencia, where Panama declared its independence from Colombia in 1903. In addition, The National Cathedral, the San Francisco de Asis Cathedral and the Presidential Palace are all located in El Casco Viejo.
San Jose Church is also located in Casco Viejo. It was built soon afer the first Spanish settlement in the 16th century. This small church features the famous Golden Altar (Altar de Oro), which is made entirely of gold.
At the tip of El Casco Viejo is French Park, a monument to the French builders that began the Panama Canal and the over 200,000 that lost their lives building the Panama Canal. The French Embassy is also located in Casco Viejo near French Park.
The area also has a vibrant night life including a lot of restaurants and bars, but be cautious wandering around at night (it is best to take taxis).
Juan Bautista Antonelly built the fortress of Las Bovedas in 1688 to safeguard gold and silver from frequent pirate attacks. Centuries later Las Bovedas was used as a military prison. In the early 1900s, prisoners were chained to the sea wall as a means of torture. Now Las Bovedas is an art gallery and French restaurant.