Hidden away in the foothills of Panama City is a curious structure. An almost egg-shaped building with radiating pillars. Is it an observation tower? One with beautifully well-kept gardens and a 360 view of the city?
No, this is the Templo Baha’i, or the Baha’i Temple. This relic of Latin American brutalist architecture is a symbol of religious acceptance in the country for a religion persecuted in the country of its roots. This building is pretty easy to get to, and does not involve much of a hike since it is not too far away from the nearest taxi station.
For a great photo-op, cultural insight and a stunning view\\ from what seems like the top of the world, the Templo Baha’i is a modern day architectural wonder for religious observers, photographers and architecture buffs alike!
What is the Baha’i Faith?
The Baha’i Faith is one of the latest of the Abrahamic Religions to form, teaching the importance of the unity of the people with aspects of all religions. Established by Baha’ullah in 1863, it took hold in what is modern-day Iran, and quickly spread to the Middle East. After much backlash by the majority-Muslim population, the Baha’is then decided to spread the religion to other parts of the world, where they are able to practice their religion without fear of persecution.
At its heart, Baha’ism looks to achieve the goal of the unified world with the guaranteed prosperity of all nations without discrimination of nations, race, creeds and sexual orientations. Universal love, for the lack of a better statement.
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How did it get to Panama?
In 1919, Martha Root, a teacher of the Baha’i faith travelled around Central and South America to spread the message of Abd’ul Baha, the founder and head of the Baha’i Faith. This is where Martha wanted the faith to take hold, as the Panama Canal would have created a perfect place to facilitate organic growth with travellers through the Canal. After which, it took awhile for the religion to actually manifest itself in the country. In 1936, after the death of Abd’ul Baha, there was a call to implement the religion worldwide and this was especially important in every Republic in the Americas. In 1940, the first pioneers settled in the country and hosted many conferences to try to convert as many people as possible. For the most part, it was successful, with many people of the Indigenous background also converting, a head feat to achieve. In the late 1940s, Panama City hosted many congregations of the faith internationally, to create unity between the Baha’i in Central America, Mexico and the West Indies.
One of the most impressive followers of the Baha’i Faith was the large-scale conversion of the Guaymi people, an indigenous people in Panama. Their efforts, beginning in the 1960s, involved the funding of education in indigenous lands, and spreading the spiritual similarities with indigenous religions.
The biggest wave of the Baha’i Faith in Panama was the large scale migration of the Baha’i followers from the Middle East who faced persecution in almost all Middle Eastern countries with the exception of Israel, for which its relative instability attracted the Baha’is to relocate to Central America. The immigration of Middle Eastern people has been a consistent trend in Latin America, and are an embraced people in the region. This caused the Baha’i population to grow to 60,000 people in Panama.
The Baha’i Temple
The Baha’i temple in Panama City was founded in 1972 by Ruhiyyih Khanum and Zikrullah Khadem, after the death of Shoghi Effendi. This temple serves as the nucleus of the Baha’i Faith in Latin America. The temple was built on the mountain of Beautiful Song (La Montana del Dulce Canto) overlooking Panama City and the Pacific Ocean. The temple was constructed with local stones, which signifies the importance of the indigenous land in which the temple was built on unceded territory, and as a homage to the culture.
Its brutalist architecture may seem weird from the distance, but the architectural significance of its round shape and radiating pillars signify the world and the spread of the religion of peace. Being the first Baha’i temple in Latin America, it is open to all visitors and contains Baha’i text in multiple languages, including English and Spanish.
Do you need to book in advance to visit the Templo Baha’i?
The Baha’i temple does not receive many non-Baha’i visitors, so the temple is open to the public during the hours of 9:00 to 18:00, and you do not need to book in advance to visit the Templo Baha’i.
What’s the best way to see Templo Baha’i?
The serene beauty of the Baha’i temple sits in stark contrast with the hustle and the bustle of Panama City. Its beautiful location on top of the mountain and surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens makes great photographic opportunities, great historical insight on a religion that you would not otherwise find in a country like Panama, and it is a great getaway to take a short break from the busy metropolis atmosphere of Panama City. The view is 360 degrees and the gardens are beautifully well designed with flowers that are both local and brought in from all parts of the world. Butterflies usually frequent the garden and it is a great place to meditate and reflect in the peaceful quiet of the mountaintop.
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