Tuesday, December 11, 2012

History of the Panama Canal by Anna Markland

Almost two years ago, my husband and I visited Panama on vacation. We didn’t do the Canal trip - in fact to this day we haven’t travelled along the Canal, though we have driven over and beside it.

During that first visit, we stumbled upon a sleepy little community called Las Lajas in Chiriqui province. About 10 km from there is the world’s best kept secret - an unbelievably beautiful beach. To cut a long story short, we decided to build a vacation condo there. We’ve been back several times since, and find the people and the country greatly to our liking. Gazing at the ocean and walking along an endless, deserted beach is very inspiring! 

One day I intend to pen a novel based in Panama, but on the last trip I spent most of my time putting the finishing touches to my latest medieval romance, Dance of Love. This story is set partially in Spain. Panama celebrated the anniversary of its independence from Spain on November 28th, so there is a bit of a connection!

Dance of Love is set in 1107 AD. It wasn’t until the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V held sway in 1534 (400 years later) that we find the earliest mention of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama.

Charles V
Charles was also King of Spain, and he ordered a survey for a route through the Americas that would ease the voyage for ships traveling between Spain and Peru. Such a route would have given the Spanish a military advantage over the Portuguese. During an expedition from 1788 to 1793, Alessandro Malaspina outlined plans for its construction.
Alessandro Malaspina

Given the strategic location of Panama and the potential offered by its narrow isthmus separating two great oceans, other trade links in the area were attempted over the years. An ill-fated Darien scheme was launched by the Kingdom of Scotland in 1698 to set up an overland trade route, but generally inhospitable conditions thwarted the effort, and it was abandoned in July, 1699. To this day, the Darien jungle remains an inhospitable place.

In 1849, the discovery of gold in California created great interest in a crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Eventually, the Panama Railway was built to cross the isthmus, opening in 1855. This overland link became a vital piece of Western Hemisphere infrastructure, greatly facilitating trade and largely determining the later canal route.

An all-water route between the oceans was still seen as the ideal solution, and in 1855 William Kennish, a Manx-born engineer working for the United States government, surveyed the isthmus and issued a report on a route for a proposed Panama Canal. His report was published in a book entitled The Practicality and Importance of a Ship Canal to Connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Encouragement for the idea of a canal was provided by the French success in building the Suez Canal.

More to come...
If you would like to sample one of my books, If Love Dares Enough is available FREE for two days only on kindle. December 12th & 13th. 

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