A Trip To Portobelo
by Art Mokray

A group of us from the Panama Historical Society went out about three weeks ago to Portobelo to see the display of Black Christ robes and early era weapons. We meet at Niko's Cafe in Balboa and caravaned over to the Atlantic side by way of the Corridor Norte, across the Trans-Isthmian Highway, a left at Sabanitas, and on to Portobelo to the Casa Aduana. Founded in 1597 as a neccessity by the Spanish Empire to have a more secure port, Portobelo also played an important part in the development of the Spanish Colonies.

So, besides myself, John and Jackie Carlson, Roberto Bruno, and Nina Brown, we meet with Lic. Nilda Vasques De La Guardia, Director of the Customs Building in Portobelo (by the way, she's Class of 1966-CHS) where she showed us and also a delegation of other news corresponders and invited guests, the display of robes used during the Black Christ processions. In this one room, on the ground floor of the House, were 65 robes donated by various people to the Black Christ. And this is just a small portion of what the church has as they are on loan from the church just down the street and will be on display for a couple of more months. There's a robe donated by Roberto Duran, Esmiel Laguna, a anonymous robe said to be from Mireya Moscoso, and also one from a Vietnam veteran who promised one should he make it through the Vietnam War. Well he did, but he donated it in white and only purple robes were allowed. Since it was beautiful,  the church representatives took the trim off and made a purple robe just like his white one and sewed the gold trim back on.

After that presentation, we were then lead to the other side of the Customs House where Ms. De La Guardia introduced Lic. Luciana de Policani, the governess of Colón, with a word from Police Commissioner Sub-Tienient Alejandro Urriola, and the ribbon was cut to alow us to enter the early era weapons display. Actually they were replicas of weapons such as rifles, pistols, swords and knifes, with literature on swords and rifles. There was also models of cannons, wooden sailing ships, a few galleons, and other odds and ends from the era which were on loan from the businessmen of the Colon Free Zone.  Also present was Prof. Rafael Ruiloba, the director of INAC, that's the Instituto Nacional de Cultura.  We were also treated to lunch.

Robes.jpg (100545 bytes)
Black Christ Robes

The Casa Aduana was rebuilt with funding, or a donation, from the Spanish government. Once they were in the process of the restoration, they notice that the original floor was always damp and would pool water in certain areas.  So it was decided to raise the floor 18 inches. They left a pit, about 4 feet by 4 feet, exposing the original floor for public viewing.

The PHS donated 100 plastics garbage bags to the Casa Aduana so that the Portobelo maintenance crews can pick up the trash in the area. John Carlson, president of the Panama Historical Society, is also going to donate a map of the Central America and the Carribean region, along with FairWinds Antique Maps, to the Custom House.  It's a 19" x 22 1/2", 1740 map by Mappa Geographicae.

June 14, 2000

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