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A great water tollway often called the Big Ditch links the Atlantic and pacific oceans It weaves across a strip of tropical land where the Isthmus of Panama narrows in the shape of a long flattened letter S The fame of the Panama Canal is not in its size since it is only about 51 miles long The Big Ditch is an engineering triumph over nature It has also been a major influence on world trade History of the Panama Canal A sea-level canal is not a new idea It was considered when interest in a canal developed in the 16th century In 1534 King Charles I of Spain ordered a survey to determine the possibility of a canal in the Panama region He abandoned his plans when the Spanish governor there made an unfavorable report Balboa had discovered the Pacific in 1513 He sighted the vast ocean from a peak some miles southeast of the eventual Panama Canal location The Pacific port of the canal Balboa was named in his honor For years the Spaniards searched in vain for a natural waterway joining the two oceans Eventually they brought their gold and silver from Peru and other South American colonies to Panama City on the pacific side Mule trains carried the treasure through narrow trails to Portobello or Nombre de Dios on the Caribbean Ships there loaded the cargo for shipment to Spain Pirates frequently raided Panama More than 20 routes for such a crossing were proposed Locations were surveyed in areas ranging from one end of the isthmus to the other A number placed the proposed canal close to the routes mentioned for a new sea-level canal today Rocky ridges were an obstacle Some plans called for tunnels through them to accommodate stretches of the canal One proposal was for a railway to carry fully laden ships
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