In the center of Casco Viejo  is the Plaza de la Independencia, where Panama declared its independence from Colombia in 1903. This area was the center of Panama City until the early 20th century. The buildings represent a real riot of architectural styles, from neo-Renaissance to art deco.
Construction began on the cathedral, the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, in 1688, but it took more than 100 years to complete. Some of the stones used in its construction come from the ruins of Panamá la Vieja . It has an attractive marble altar and a few well-crafted stained-glass windows, though otherwise the interior is rather plain. The towers are inlaid with mother of pearl from the Perlas Islands.
Little-known factoid: The bones of a saint, Santo Aurelio, are contained in a reliquary hidden behind a painting of Jesus near the front of the church, on the left as one faces the altar. Visitors have been known to nudge the painting aside to take a peek when no one’s looking.
Opposite the cathedral is the historic Hotel Central, a grand 19th-century hotel that over the decades deteriorated into a flophouse. It’s being renovated by a Spanish consortium that aims to turn it into a five-star hotel. In reality, the hotel has been entirely gutted except for its facade, which has outraged preservationists. A large apartment building that looms over the entire plaza is being built right next to its north side.
The construction of the hotel has been much delayed because as soon as work started in the fall of 2007, archaeologists uncovered many layers of artifacts and evidence of public works that date back at least to the 17th century.