Even since 8,000 B.C. the Isthmus of Panama has been utilized as a transit route when man wanted to migrate up and down the American continent.
A sea level canal crossing the Isthmus has been a dream ever since Vasco Nuņez de Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513.
In 1534, the King of Spain, Charles V, ordered the first studies for the construction of a canal trough a section of the Isthmus. Altough this idea never materialized, the Spaniards built roads paved with stone that were used to transport, by mules, tons of gold and silver coming from Peru and ound for Spain. Traces of these roads still remain today and can be visited.
In 1880, French companies directed by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal, began construction of the Panama Canal. But after seven years of fighting diseases and the indomitable problems of the jungle terrain, de Lesseps was forced to abandon the project.
In 1903, the province of Panama declared its independence from Colombia and immediately signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty which authorized the United States to start construction of the Canal in 1904. It was completed and started operations on August 15, 1914 when the U.S. cargo ship Ancon made a historic first transit while the war was raging in Europe.