Historic Center of Colón

Completed Project
World Monuments Watch
Colón, Panama

Site History and Significance

Originally a low-lying coral island, Colón lies at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. The city was established in 1850 by the New York–based Panama Railroad Company and is an important center for global trade and commerce in Latin America, illustrating a significant stage in the history of world commerce and communications.

The historic center of this city rests upon landfill constructed in stages over a period of 100 years beginning in 1850. The architecture is a unique blend of urban design traditions and architectural styles, including Gothic Revival, Neoclassical, Art Deco and early International Style, reflecting the city’s development and its cultural diversity.

Colón’s plan, with its long, narrow blocks open to the trade winds, along with its parkways and distinctive colonnaded street facades, has proven to be a remarkably successful model of urban form, sensitive both to the challenging climatic conditions of the humid tropics and the possibilities of adaptive change.

Today, the historic center of Colón is grappling with a number of challenges, as contemporary needs and changing economic conditions affect the port area and related business in the city center. The nearby Mount Hope Cemetery was included in the 2010 World Monuments Watch and is equally affected by changing commercial interests and demographics.

Our Involvement

2010 World Monuments Watch

The historic center of Colón was included on the 2010 World Monuments Watch to draw attention to the need to protect the historic resources of this city that were integral to the fortunes of many countries and companies, due to its proximity to the Panama Canal. Following inclusion on the Watch, funding from the U.S. Department of State's Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation supported the conduct of a survey and inventory of the cultural and architectural resources in the historic district.

WMF supported an eight-month project at the site combining three components: pilot urban design concept plans for the restoration and programmatic use and rehabilitation of the buildings and public spaces; an educational documentary video on the Historic District and its current challenges, to be broadcast on local television; and an international conference on conservation and rehabilitation measures for the urban center.

The Future of the Historic Ceneter of Colón

In February 2013, a two-day event gathered international and local urban conservation experts, government representatives and community advocates to develop ideas and alternative measures for the conservation and sustainable management of the urban center. Round-table discussions focused on the future vision of the Historic Center of Colón as an administrative and commercial hub, a dynamic and environmentally sustainable urban center with socioeconomic diversity and room for architectural and urban innovation. La Declaración de Colón, (in Spanish) consolidates the discussions and recommendations generated during the conference.

Colón Historic Center Heritage Alert

Despite calls for the site’s rehabilitation and conservation, in September 2021 the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) issued a worldwide Heritage Alert for the deeply neglected Historic Center of Colón. The Heritage Alert is ICOMOS’ most consequential expression of concern, and demonstrates the urgency of Colón’s preservation needs.

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Last updated:
October 2021

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