1.         Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá (Panama) (C 790bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1997

Criteria  (ii)(iv)(vi)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/790/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/790/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions

March 2009: Joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission; March 2010: On the occasion of the joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission to Portobelo and San Lorenzo, a technical visit to the Archaeological Site of Panama Viejo and the Historic District was undertaken as requested by the authorities of Panama; October 2010: Joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Severe deterioration of historic buildings that threaten the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;

b) Conflicting interests of different stakeholders with regard to the use, management and conservation of the Historic Centre;

c) Limited capacity for the rehabilitation and maintenance of historic structures;

d) Deficiencies in the implementation of the legislative framework for protection;

e) Lack of implementation of clear conservation and management policies for the property;

f) Demolition of urban ensembles and buildings;

g) Forced displacement of occupants and squatters;

h) Urban development projects within the protected area (i.e. Cinta Costera).

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/790/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2012

The State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property on 31 January 2012. Since the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee, the World Heritage Centre has received multiple requests and complaints from the civil society of Panama, NGO’s and international heritage experts, concerning the construction of the Cinta Costera III project. In August 2011, the State Party requested the World Heritage Centre to support the implementation of Decision 35 COM 7B.130 by assisting in the establishment of a technical group of experts to identify means for addressing conservation and management issues, as well as alternatives to traffic congestion and mobility in the Historic Centre. The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS subsequently submitted a proposal for a panel of experts; however the mission was cancelled by the State Party on two occasions between September and November 2011. Notwithstanding, the state of conservation report indicated that the State Party organized a meeting of national and international technical experts on 7and 8 December 2011 to evaluate the draft proposal of a maritime viaduct prepared by the Oderbrecht Company. The meeting concluded with the State Party’s decision on a definitive proposal of the Cinta Costera III project, which was presented on 31 January 2012 to the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS. The State Party officially stated that the aforementioned proposal is the only alternative the Government of Panama is submitting for consideration and review by the World Heritage Committee.

a) Buffer zone

The State Party has submitted the delineations of the buffer zone of the Historic District. Although an aerial photograph was received from the State Party after the submission of the state of conservation report, which marks potential boundaries and the terrestrial and maritime boundaries, the official cartographic documentation has yet to be submitted. Furthermore, the proposed buffer zone should be formally submitted as a request for minor boundary modification according to paragraphs 163-164 and Annex 11 of the Operational Guidelines. The information submitted was not according to the official format request for the Retrospective Inventory process. When officially submitted in its correct format, the Advisory Bodies will commence the evaluation process. It should be recalled that one of the components of the property, the Archaeological Site of Panama Viejo, had legally established its land and waterfront buffer zone in 2007, along with regulatory measures for its maritime buffer zone and restrictions for land use. The State Party was informed that they should establish zoning and define regulatory measures to allow for a controlled transition between the Historic Centre and the modern city.

b) Legislative framework and policies for the property

The deficiencies in governance mechanisms and in the enforcement of regulations and sanctioning of various processes that are detrimental to the conservation of heritage buildings in the Historic District have been underscored for the past six years. Given the poor state of conservation of a significant number of built heritage properties, including several at risk of collapse, the World Heritage Committee requested the State Party in 2011 to establish a special legal framework for the Historic District. The State Party indicated in the 2012 report that, in accordance with Panamanian law, it is not possible to establish a new and distinct administrative unit. It does not provide alternatives for the potential legislative frameworks that would allow for adequate and efficient protection and management of the property and its surroundings. According to information received from the State Party, the Minister of Education has been mandated to submit a proposal of Law 64-11 to the Legislative National Assembly, and civil society is being consulted. Subsequent to careful evaluation, the draft text of the Decree renders it insufficient to deal with the complexity of the case in addressing issues of land ownership and built heritage at risk of collapse. This is underpinned by the lack of a conservation plan and an updated and legally-adopted Master Plan for the Historic District. No housing policy or plan has been developed, representing the only viable solution to revert the critical state of conservation of the built heritage of the Historic Centre. Finally, no financial information has been submitted to ensure that the appropriate technical resources to preserve and manage the Historic Centre on a daily basis have been secured. The Oficina del Casco has changed direction and staff recently, and the available human resources are largely insufficient to adequately deal with the threats to the property.

c) Management arrangements and resources

The State Party started the process to update the Management Plan, including conservation, legislative and capacity-building components. In relation to the implementation of the Emergency Plan requested by the World Heritage Committee in 2009, the Ministry of Public Works called to tender a project to valorize the monumental built ensemble of Casco Viejo, to improve infrastructure, electric installations, drainage systems, and to construct a parking lot within the protected area. The Oderbrecht Company won the tender. The National Authority of the Environment (ANAM) and the National Institute of Culture (INAC) authorized the intervention. Proposals to regulate vehicular traffic and accessibility were included in the report.

According to the request to assign one management authority, the State Party stated that the National Directorate of Cultural Heritage of the National Institute of Culture (INAC) would assume the coordination role between the two components of the property. However, no decision-making process has been identified to ensure a well-informed decision and a holistic policy for interventions for both component parts of the property, such as the re-design of the Via Cincuentenario where the technical opinion of the Patronato of Panamá Viejo was not fully considered when the new deviation was approved. 

d) State of conservation of the property

The 2010 reactive monitoring mission expressed its concern regarding the Historic Centre, particularly in regard to the existence of a significant number of largely deteriorated and neglected historic buildings, the continuing gentrification process, and issues of poverty, insecurity, living conditions, and vehicular traffic. Current information submitted by the State Party confirms that 66 buildings of the Historic District are at serious risk of collapse.

e) Cinta Costera Project

The State Party has stated that the water viaduct is the only option presented for consideration by the World Heritage Committee, which is planned to be constructed around the perimeter of the peninsula and comprises two versions: A (2500m) and B (2650m). The two versions include a speed water highway (3 lanes in both directions), parking, leisure equipment, public green areas, peripheral platforms on both sides of the peninsula where the property is located, and an artificial island construction in front of the Government Palace, for institutional purposes. None of these elements avoid direct visual, acoustic, environmental and physical impacts to the property. The area concerned is protected by Executive National Decree No. 51 of 22 April 2004 according to the Procedures for the Restoration and Rehabilitation of Old Panama City and Law No. 16 of 22 May 2007. At its 35th session, the World Heritage Committee regretted that the authorities approved the construction works for Cinta Costera II, and expressed its deep concern that the planned peripheral highway works would irreversibly damage the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The 2010 mission considered that Phase 3 of the project would pose an even larger threat to the integrity of the property as it would transform the District’s traditional form and appearance on its coastline, an important attribute which warranted its inscription on the World Heritage List. The mission recommended that the tunnel alternative be re-assessed and present studies on its possible heritage, social or functional impacts and risks. In addition, the World Heritage Committee requested the State Party to halt the current construction works and urged it to reconsider the alternative of the tunnel option. The latter has since been discarded by the State Party on the grounds of costs. The construction of the overland solution has also been rejected in terms of cost and the expropriation that would be needed. The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS consider however that alternative solutions have not been sufficiently explored nor technical comprehensive assessment been submitted in order to justify feasible geomorphologic risk in the area or other reasons for discarding the options.

The State Party presented its rationale for a viaduct as the mainland urban area is densely urbanized and tightly constrained, restricting an overland solution. No concrete figures and/or comprehensive study of traffic or mobility have been presented to warrant these statements and no alternative overland solutions have been explored by the State Party which would respond to comprehensive studies. The State Party submitted the Environmental Impact Assessment of the encircling viaduct intervention prepared by the Oderbrecht Company (the company awarded the contract), in which there is no consideration of the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property in the Terms of Reference for the assessment. Complementary studies (bathymetry, oceanographic exploration, underwater archaeology, sea flora and fauna, hydrology, geology, historical studies, a scoping study and heritage impact assessment) were submitted. Conscious of the high impact in linking the Avenida Balboa to Puente de las Americas, the State Party recognizes that it is a problematic project, but has stated it cannot be deferred as the geography is considered as a constraint to increase the growth of the capital. The new construction to upgrade the Panama Canal, a major infrastructure development foreseen, needs a more accurate communication system with the capitol. The statement of the State Party requesting the assessment of only this proposal does not allow for dialogue about potential solutions.

The Heritage Impact Assessment commissioned by the State Party was included in the information about the project. No details are provided on the methodological approach considered neither for its development, nor on how the attributes under assessment were identified or selected. It is not correlated to the retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value of the property; also, no mention is made of the conditions of authenticity and integrity that need to be met. Furthermore, it does not indicate whether a participatory process was implemented for the formulation of the assessment. Consultation was only noted as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment, and the Heritage Impact Assessment apparently reflects the work of two individuals. The report notes that the Historic Centre, given its location and characteristics, is an urban landmark recognized from various costal areas of the Coast and Bay of Panama. The report considers that as an urban landmark, the Historic Centre is not only readable from its interior (in the relationship between architecture and public space) but also from outside and afar, constituting the emblematic image of Panama City. Although the assessment indicates several negative impacts, it notes that these can be mitigated through planning, design and valorization. Segment 2 is recognized as high impact given that it will impede the reading of the relationship between the fortified wall and the sea and would also entail changes in the original wall, and will modify the original scenery and create a new one by superimposing a new platform on the historic fortified wall. In addition, the area is foreseen to have additional impacts derived from the proposed new use as a parking area. In terms of the maritime viaduct itself, the report notes that it would entail a high visual, morphological and aesthetic impact and that the significance as a historic peninsula would be irreversibly lost. It argues however that it is an opportunity for dialogue between the past and the present, although no other tangible benefit is identified. Additional letters submitted by the State Party indicate that the proposal falls under the criteria of cultural landscape, to allow for the continuous evolution of the property. It should be recalled that the property was not inscribed as a landscape but as a group of monuments, as a Historic Centre with two component parts. 

The proposed maritime viaduct project and corresponding Heritage Impact Assessment has been reviewed by the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS. The viaduct would encircle the beach which has historically bordered the Historic District since its foundation. The advantages noted in the assessments are not beneficial to the property and the conditions of integrity and authenticity would be irreversibly compromised. The existent relationship of the Historic Centre with the sea would be lost and there would be radical transformations of the natural seascape, both critical attributes of the Historic District that warranted its inscription on the World Heritage List and that differentiates this Historic Centre from others in the region. The artificial island of San Felipe in front of the GovernmentPalace would also entail a radical visual transformation of the historic seascape and of all the views to and from the Historic Centre. These impacts are also recognised in the heritage impact assessment carried out. In addition, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the preliminary proposal of the viaduct proposed by the State Party could further increase vehicular traffic. A detailed study on mobility and traffic should be prepared prior to any intervention, so as to identify a long-term solution for mobility and urban growth and in compatibility with the commitment made to sustaining the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. They wish to recall the Outstanding Universal Value of the property with reference to the Historic District component, which emphasizes its setting in the peninsula, encircled by a fortified precinct, as a singularity in comparison with Panama Viejo. Since the archeological city lacked this wall precinct, it was abandoned once the city moved to the peninsula in 1673, representing an exceptional testimony of the nature of the early settlements with a layout and urban design that have been maintained until today. The complementary layouts were considered when the property was extended. As in the case of outstanding maritime facades (like the Archaeological site of Panama Viejo and Colonia del Sacramento, among other World Heritage properties), a buffer zone should be considered to protect the values of the site in terms of outstanding setting, visual integrity and underwater archaeological potential. The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS wish to recall the Declaration of the Historic Urban Landscape, adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in 2011, which includes key principles that need to be taken into consideration by the World Heritage Committee to assess impact and to identify proper alternatives when faced with urban growth challenges. 

f) Project of Avenida Cincuentenario, Panama Viejo

The 2010 reactive monitoring mission considered that the Avenida Cincuentenario remains the main threat to this component of the property. The mission requested the State Party to implement the alternative presented by the Patronato to deviate the road to improve the conditions of visual integrity of the property and at the same time, implement a research/conservation plan for the archaeological area. The State Party presented a detailed course of action undertaken since August 2011 to proceed with the implementation of the outlined plan of Via Cincuenterario as requested by the World Heritage Centre. However a new trajectory was submitted and the State Party confirmed that the itinerary suggested by the reactive monitoring missions in 2008 and 2009 was not chosen since the number of expropriated lands increased the total cost of the intervention. The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS wish to recall that Panamá Viejo, which was founded in 1519, is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas, and the oldest European settlement with visible, fully identified ruins, and an urban plan on the American mainland. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List as a case of well-preserved pre-Hispanic remains that reveal a very long history of occupation that adds considerable significance. The fact that it was abandoned after a relatively short period of existence, without being completely demolished or altered, makes the site an exceptional testimony of town planning of its period and culture. For the same reasons, the site is an exceptional example of urban planning, and the current and proposed plans are incongruous with the conditions of authenticity and integrity of the site. The National Directorate of Cultural Heritage approved on 29 December 2012, archaeological surveys and excavations at the property in areas that are susceptible to being directly impacted by the relocation of the road. Colonial structures were identified which entails an impact on the conditions of integrity according to the attributes that sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Moreover, this kind of intervention does not follow the international standard-setting texts of archaeological interventions on monumental areas. The new plan will affect four important archaeological ensembles.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies acknowledge with concern the state of conservation of the property and the threats that remain unaddressed, including the lack of effectiveness of the management system, governance and decision-making mechanisms between the two components of the property, the significant number of historic buildings at risk of collapse, and the ownership figures of the Historic District which reveal an increase in real estate speculation and the lack of a housing policy. They further consider that the on-going development of the Cinta Costera III and the alternative of the encircling viaduct, in spite of the Decisions of the World Heritage Committee and the recommendations of the reactive monitoring missions, constitute a real threat to the attributes that sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. It is recommended that much higher standards of protection and development need to be set in this area. The tunnel proposal, which would have assured minimal impacts on the property, should be reconsidered as requested by the World Heritage Committee in 2011, in combination with other overland infrastructures in the framework of a comprehensive and solid planning strategy for urban development, in which the traffic component should be carefully studied. Given the scale and the proximity of the proposed water development around the property, impacts on the visual integrity of the historic landscape and seascape cannot be avoided. It should be noted that all the graphic information received of the viaduct does not include any example of the functioning of the highway. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies therefore recommend studying alternatives that do not include the marine highway encircling the historic areas, in consideration of the Outstanding Universal Value of the site and the character of the national maritime protected area.

The assessment of all relevant documents concludes that the planned works on the viaduct are continuing and that the project has not been halted. The World Heritage Committee may decide to inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger and consider to delete this property from the World Heritage List at its 37th session in 2013, as proceeding with the construction would irreversibly compromise the attributes that sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and the conditions of authenticity and integrity. 

The viaduct project will irreversibly damage the Outstanding Universal Value, authenticity and integrity of the property. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies were informed that activities planned have started and the construction of the platforms has begun. As per Committee Decisions at the 33rd, 34th and 35th sessions ofthe World Heritage Committee, the State Party was requested to halt the project Cinta Costera II and Cinta Costera III, and requested to consider alternative proposals for a solution to traffic congestion and mobility at the property. These have not been sufficiently explored by the State Party and no comprehensive studies exist to substantiate reasons for being discarded. According to the project now being implemented, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the construction will irrevocably impact the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and could result in the World Heritage Committee considering the deletion of the property from the World Heritage List.

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 7B.103

The World Heritage Committee,

1.   Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/7B.Add,

2.   Recalling Decision 35 COM 7B.130, adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011),

3.   Reiterates its deep concern regarding the state of conservation of the property, in particular unaddressed issues including the efficacy of the management system, the risk of collapse of historic buildings in the Historic Centre and the potential impacts related to the Cinta Costera project;

4.   Also recalls the report provided by the reactive monitoring mission of October 2010, and notes that the critical issues have not been comprehensively and sustainably addressed, and that some of the recommendations were discarded;

5.   Also notes that the actions requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session on legal improvements and management issues are still in the planning phase, and requests the State Party to undertake as a matter of urgency, the implementation of the following actions:

a)  Revise the draft Law as to reinforce the role of the institutions responsible for World Heritage protection in the decision-making process for any intervention at the World Heritage property,

b)  Officially submit a comprehensive and legally-supported policy for the protection of the property and buffer zone, including the maritime area and the related enforcement of their regulatory measures,

c)  Improve coordination on the decision-making process between the Directorate of Cultural Heritage and the Patronato of Panama Viejo to ensure the appropriate measures for the preservation of both components of the property,

d)  Submit three printed and electronic copies of the updated Management Plan;

6.   Welcomes the fact that work on the viaduct has not yet begun, in accordance with the decision taken by the Committee at its 35th session;

7.   Further notes that the State Party has not fully complied with the requests expressed by the Committee in Decision 35 COM 7B.130 and considers that the continuation of the Cinta Costera III Maritime Viaduct project should be the subject of an impact study as to its Outstanding Universal Value, under the currently inscribed criteria;

8.   Also requests the State Party to submit an updated version of the Management Plan according to the requirements made by the Committee in its Decision 35 COM 7B.130, as well as a comprehensive urban transportation traffic strategy, including alternative options for Cinta Costera III;

9.   Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, a report on the state of conservation of the property and on the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session in 2013.