We spent a few hours at the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal today. It was fascinating.
The concept of the canal was first explored by the Spaniards in the 16th century, but it was concluded it was not possible. In the late 1800s, the French commissioned de Lesseps (the designer of the Suez Canal) to build a canal, but inadequate design (the hard rock & jungle of Panama posed different challenges than the desert of Egypt), cost overruns, and rampant disease/death of workers caused the project to fail.
The US was very interested in having a canal constructed, but could not come to an agreement with the Colombians, under whose rule Panama fell at that time. Therefore, in 1903, the United States successfully backed Panama's efforts at gaining independence from Colombia, and an agreement between the US & Panama for construction and administration of the canal emerged soon thereafter. The project started shortly thereafter, and was completed in 1914 (at the start of WW I).
The 80 kilometer interoceanic way, as its called, operates through a system of locks that raises ships from ocean level to that of Gatun Lake, which, at 27 meters above sea level is the highest point throughout the crossing, and then lowers them again. I've never been that interested in engineering, but being here and seeing this massive project in person was inspiring.Read more