1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Panama (city)

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PANAMA, the capital and the chief Pacific port of the republic of Panama, and the capital of the province of the same name, in the south-central part of the country, at the head of the Gulf of Panama, and at the south terminus of the Panama railway, 47½ m. from Colon, and of the Panama Canal. Pop. (1910), about 30,000, of whom nearly one-half were foreign-born or of foreign parentage. Panama is served by regular steamers to San Francisco, Yokohama and other Pacific ports. The city is built on a rocky peninsula jutting out to the east, near the mouth of the Rio Grande and at the foot of Mt Ancon (560 ft.). The harbour is good and is enclosed at the south by several rugged islands, the largest being Perico and Flamenco (belonging to the United States) and Taboga (935 ft.), which is a place of country residence for wealthy citizens. The main streets run north and south and are cut by the Avenida Central; nearly all the streets are narrow and crooked. The principal squares are Cathedral, Santa Ana, Bolivar and Lesseps. The city proper is almost entirely enclosed by the remains of a great granite wall (built in 1673, when the new city was established), on the top of which on the side facing the sea is Las Bovedas promenade. The public buildings include the cathedral (1760), the government palace, the municipal palace, the episcopal palace, the church of Santa Ana, a national theatre, a school of arts and trades, a foreign hospital, the former administration building of the Canal Company, Santo Tomas Hospital, the pesthouse of Punta Mala and various asylums. The houses are mostly of stone, with red tile roofs, two or three storeys high, built in the Spanish style around central patios, or courts, and with balconies projecting far over the narrow streets; in such houses the lowest floor is often rented to a poorer family. There are dwellings above most of the shops. The streets are lighted with electricity; and there are electric street railways and telephones in the city. The water supply and drainage systems were introduced by the United States government, which controls the sanitation of the city, but has no other jurisdiction over it. Two miles inland is Ancon, in the Canal Zone, in which are the hospitals of the Isthmian Canal Commission and the largest hotel on the isthmus. The city of Panama was formerly a stronghold of yellow fever and malaria, which American sanitary measures have practically eradicated. Panama has had an important trade: its imports, about twice as valuable as its exports, include cotton goods, haberdashery, coal, flour, silk goods and rice; the most valuable exports are gold, india-rubber, mother of pearl and cocobolo wood. As Balboa (3 m. west of the city, connected with it by railway, and formerly called La Boca), the port of Panama and the actual terminus of the canal, is in the Canal Zone and is a port under the jurisdiction of the United States, the commercial future of Panama is dependent upon American tariffs and the degree to which Panama and Balboa may be identified. At Balboa there are three wharves, one 985 ft. long and another 1000 ft. long, but their capacity is so insufficient that lighterage is still necessary. In the city there is one small dock which can be used only at full tide. Small vessels may coal at Naos, an island in the Gulf of Panama, which is owned by the United States. Soap and chocolate are manufactured. Founded in 1519 by Pedro Arias de Avila, Panama is the oldest European town on the mainland of America. In the 16th century the city was the strongest Spanish fortress in the New World, excepting Cartagena, and gold and silver were brought hither by ship from Peru and were carried across the Isthmus to Chagres, but as Spain's fleets even in the Pacific were more and more often attacked in the 17th century, Panama became less important, though it was still the chief Spanish port on the Pacific. In 1671 the city was destroyed by Henry Morgan, the buccaneer; it was rebuilt in 1673 by Alfonzo Mercado de Villacorta about five miles west of the old site and nearer the roadstead. The city has often been visited by earthquakes. In the city in June 1826 the Panama Congress met (see Pan-American Conferences).