Active Project

Historic Center of Colón

Colón, Panama
Did You Know?
Colón, originally a low-lying coral island, lies at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal.
A Closer Look

Historic Center of Colón


Colón, originally a low-lying coral island, lies at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. 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.

How We Helped

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

WMF supported an eight-month project, developed jointly by the group of nominators and the project coordinator-the architectural and urban planning firm URBIO S.A. The project combined 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 in local television; and an international conference on conservation and rehabilitation measures for the urban center.

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 Colon 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.

Why It Matters

Established in 1850 by the New York-based Panama Railroad Company, the city of Colón is an important center for global trade and commerce in Latin America. It illustrates a significant stage in the history of world commerce and communications. The three program components, to be completed by the end of 2012, promote support for rehabilitation and conservation of the historic center at the grassroots, local, and national government levels.

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