Panama Canal – canal to link the oceans
Panama Canal is the only navigable canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It was dug through the Isthmus of Panama for ten years, from 1904 to 1914. Since that time, the sea route from New York to San Francisco shortened more than doubled, from 22 500 km to 9000 km. The total length of the channel is 81.6 km. Since 2000, the channel is owned by the government of Panama.
Oceangoing vessels that are headed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific came to gateways, where they gradually raised to a height of 26 m. Then, on the waters of an artificial Lake Gatun ships sail to other gateways and come to the Pacific Ocean. After about nine hours of travelling they are in the Bay of Panama.
From 30 to 45 vessels of different types and sizes pass through the channel every day. Payment depends on the tonnage. 40 thousand tons are the maximum allowed. In total about 14 thousand ships are ferried every year.
Explorers and wealthy merchants dreamed of the construction of the channel since the old days. However, it all started only in the XVI century, when the Spaniards – the discoverers of Panama arrived in those places in 1501 and began to trade with local natives importing goods for gold, silver, pearls. Later they found gold on the banks of the rivers flowing into the Caribbean Sea. Jewelry had become one of the main export items.
Spanish conquistador and the merchant Vasco Nunez de Balboa wanted to find new deposits of gold. The Indians told him that there was a country rich in gold, silver and pearls in the south of the Gulf of Darien, but it was not easy to reach it. It was a country that was later called Peru.
On September 1, 1513 Balboa along with 180 armed and equipped soldiers and 600 Indians went to the shore of the “South Sea”. It took him nearly a month to cross 48 km. Isthmus of Panama was a solid rock piles, lush tropical vegetation and marshes. The Spaniards had to go through the impenetrable thicket of creepers, ferns, and giant trees. Poisonous evaporation of swamps, clouds of mosquitoes brought diseases: yellow fever, dysentery. During an expedition local tribes of natives more than once attacked the travelers. Only one-third of people reached the water. Balboa called the bay San Miguel and thought it would be great to have a canal there. Balboa began preparing for a new expedition, but his idea failed. In 1517, he was falsely accused of treason and was beheaded.
A gold rush broke out in California in 1848 was the impetus for the forgotten idea of building a canal. Local businessman James Marshall found gold nuggets on the river bank. It caused an unprecedented boom in the United States. Thousands of people rushed to California.
In 1879 the French hastily purchased a concession for the construction of the canal from Colombia. French expert Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps was appointed the chief engineer. In 1880 Lesseps arrived in Panama. He planned to link the two oceans at the same level, and began construction along the Chagres River and the Rio Grande. Scorching sun, tropical rains, rocks, jungle exhausted people. Numerous marshes and millions of mosquitoes caused yellow fever, malaria, dysentery, smallpox. Dozens of workers died every day. The French painter Paul Gauguin was among the workers, but soon he escaped.
At least 20 thousand people died. 88-year-old Lesseps was accused of bribery and was arrested. There was a great scandal in 1889. The United States benefited from the situation. The government, led by an ambitious president Theodore Roosevelt, had a talk with the leaders of Colombia (Panama belonged to it at that time). It was unsuccessful. But in 1903, Panama declared itself an independent state and was immediately recognized by the United States and a number of agreements were signed. In 1904 the Americans began to build the canal again.
On August 15, 1914 the first ship passed through the channel, but the official opening was held on June 12, 1920.