When visiting Panama’s Old City (Casco Antiguo), check out the Plaza de Francia on the far southeast side. This public square stands as a testimony to the people who worked on—and gave their lives for—the Panama Canal.
Built in 1921 by Leonardo Villanueva Meyer, the square's main attraction is a 60-foot (18-meter) obelisk. The monument outlines the history of the canal and honors those 22,000 workers and engineers who died, mainly due to disease, while building it. The statues surrounding it show prominent people who participated in the construction at the time of the French involvement, and the Gallic rooster sitting on top of the obelisk is one of the national emblems of France.
Besides the monument, near this plaza you will find the France Embassy and the Esteban Huertas Promenade. There’s also an impressive view of the Panama City bay, the Bridge of the Americas and the Amador Causeway.
The plaza is also near the former Supreme Court building, which now serves as the National Institute of Culture and is home to the Anita Villalaz Theater, where theater performances, concerts and conferences take place throughout the year. In fact, you might recognize the building from some scenes in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.
On one side of the plaza, vaults known as Las Bóvedas, which were originally part of the fortified wall around the Old City, are the source of legends and urban myths. Stop in at any of the stores in the area and listen to the shopkeepers tell you about the experiences prisoners once had in these dark recesses. In recent decades, the vaults have been restored and are now home to galleries, shops and a French restaurant.
This plaza is at the end of Calle 1 Este in the Old City, which is accessible by car and taxi.