The Museo de la Historia de Panamá (Avenida Central between Calle 7 Oeste and Calle 8 Oeste, tel. 228-6231, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., US$1 general admission, US$0.25 children) is a small museum containing artifacts from Panama ’s history from the colonial period to the modern era. It’s in the Palacio Municipal, a neoclassical building from 1910 that is now home to government offices.
At first glance it seems like just another one of Panama’s woefully underfunded museums housing a few obscure bits of bric-a-brac. But anyone with some knowledge of Panama’s history—which is essential, since the Spanish-only displays are poorly explained—will find some of the displays fascinating.
Among these are a crudely stitched Panama flag, said to have been made by María Ossa de Amador in 1903. She was the wife of Manuel Amador Guerrero, a leader of the revolutionaries who conspired with the Americans to wrest independence from Colombia.
The flag was hastily designed by the Amadors’ son, and the women in the family sewed several of them for the rebels; the sewing machine they used is included in the display. If the revolution had failed, this quaint sewing circle might have meant death by hanging for all of them. Instead, Manuel Amador became the first president of Panama.
On a desk by the far wall is the handwritten draft of a telegram the revolutionaries sent to the superintendent of the Panama Railroad in Colón, pleading with him not to allow Colombian troops from the steamship Cartagena to cross the isthmus and put down the revolution. This was one of the tensest moments in the birth of Panama. In the end, they didn’t cross over, and the revolution was nearly bloodless. The telegram is dated November 3, 1903, the day Panama became independent, and those who sent it are now considered Panama’s founding fathers.
Other displays include a stirrup found on the storied Camino de Cruces , a plan for the fortifications built at Portobelo  in 1597, 17th-century maps of the “new” Panama City at Casco Viejo  (note the walls that originally ringed the city, now all but gone), and the sword of Victoriano Lorenzo, a revered hero of the War of a Thousand Days .