Panama: History of its name and birth of a country

Panama City

Panama is a beautiful country, full of traditions and customs that go back hundreds of years. The country of Panama is a territory which is located on an isthmus, between Colombia to the southeast and Costa Rica to the west, which makes Panama the physical union between the two great continental masses of North and South America, and that limits to the north with the Caribbean Sea, to the south with the Pacific Ocean, to the east with Colombia and to the west with Costa Rica. 

History of the discovery of Panama

Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first to visit the Isthmus of Panama along with an expedition of Spanish conquerors in 1501. However, Bastidas only sailed the Caribbean coast of the current province of Colón and the islands of the archipelago of the San Blas region. Because his boats were in a deteriorated condition that forced him to return to Spain.

After this, it was Christopher Columbus, on October 10, 1502, who would reach the Atlantic coast of the isthmus in the provinces of Veraguas and Bocas del Toro. And on November 2, it reached a bay in the current province of Colón, which it gave the name of Puerto Bello or Portobello.

During his stay in the territories of Veragua, Colón came into conflict with the Cacique Quibián who was the Lord of Veraguas, by settling down and taking the river that he baptized as Bethlehem. During this period bloody battles were fought between Spaniards and indigenous people.

Origin of the name «Panama»:
 The name of Panama is of indigenous origin, and there are various references to its true meaning, being accepted with greater force that derives from the abundance of fish and butterflies. However, some historians attribute the name of Panama to the local tree called “Panama” (Sterculia apetala), which is very common in the country and under whose lush shade indigenous families used to gather.

Its capital receives the name of Panama City and was founded by Pedrarias on August 15, 1519. According to some historical archive letters, there were small fishermen settlements called “Panama” in the place, so for some experts this could be the reason for which the city was baptized with that name.

Panama and its coveted strategic position. Panama’s territorial position is very strategic. Due to this, throughout its history it has been key for numerous countries that sought to take advantage of the potential of this land to unite two oceans. For this reason, from the beginning of the 16th century, Spain turned the country into a central commercial point of its empire and a crossing point between the seas.

Spain transported innumerable riches to the port of Portobello to be later distributed in all its colonies in America. And it was just this concentration of wealth in Panamanian territory that caused English privateers like Henry Morgan and Francis Drake to be attracted, wreaking havoc such as Morgan’s siege of Portobello in 15096 and the burning and looting of the first City of Panama in 1671 made by Drake.

Panama and its independence history


In November 1821, Panama finally became independent from Spain, and joined Greater Colombia, which was made up of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. However, in 1830 the separation of Panama from Colombia occurs for the first time, due to the internal conflicts that occurred at that time due to the murder of Sucre and Bolívar’s departure from the government. And for this reason, on September 26, 130, General José Domingo Espinar, Military Commander of the isthmus declared the separation of Panama to be against Joaquín Mosquera, who was the successor of Bolívar.


Espina offered the isthmus to Bolívar so that he would fight for the accession of the other countries to the confederation. But due to the illness Bolívar was facing, he declined the offer and Panama rejoined the confederation on December 11, 1830.


After these events, seventeen separation attempts occurred and four declared separations, with a subsequent reinstatement of the union with Colombia until years later the failure of the construction of the canal by the French occurred during the War of a thousand days that was transferred to Panamanian territory.


On March 30, 1922, the US Congress ratified the Thomson-Urrutia treaty, which awarded Colombia compensation of $ 25 million for the elimination of all disagreements caused by the political events that occurred in Panama in 1903.


On May 8, 1924, Colombia recognized Panama as an independent nation at the initiative of the United States. Once Panama was definitively separated from Colombia, the Alfaro-Kellogg Treaty between the governments of Panama and the United States began, in order to regulate the expropriation of land for the operation of the canal whose construction began in 1904.


In 1936 the Arias-Roosevelt Treaty between Panama and the United States was signed, which annulled the principle of North American military intervention, although the canal zone would continue to be the ground of US bases. And on December 19, 1989, the US invasion of Panama under the George Bush government began with the operation called “Just Cause.”


Panama: Land of “abundant fish and butterflies”

Panama, as one of the versions of the origin of its indigenous name indicates, is a beautiful land full of lakes and rivers where the fishing sector develops. Likewise, the beauty of its nature in which there are numerous species of butterflies and that of the leafy Panama tree, undoubtedly incite many to visit its natural wonders of its lakes such as Gatún, Bayano or Alajuela. In addition to this, it is also impossible that its visitors do not fall before its imposing Barú volcano or Cerro Fábrega, or the important and well-known Panama Canal.


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4 thoughts on “Panama: History of its name and birth of a country

  1. Fantastic website. Plenty of useful info here. I am sending it to several friends ans also sharing in delicious. And naturally, thanks on your effort! Michaella Pierson Olette

  2. Enjoyed every bit of your article.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

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