The Panama Canal opened to maritime traffic on August 15, 1914. The engineering wonder of the world, it took ten years, more than 75,000 workers and $400 million to complete. The builders faced unprecedented challenges, from tropical disease and the ever-present danger of landslides to the logistics and problems of excavating the mammoth locks.
The Canal is 80 km. long, and flows from Colon in the Caribbean to Panama City in the Pacific. Average transit time is between 8 and 10 hours. Since its construction, more than 700,000 vessels have traversed it.
The focal points of the Canal are Lake Gatun, an artificial central lake that extends along almost the whole isthmus; the Gaillard Cut, a 13 km excavation along the Continental Division, which extends from Lake Gatun to the Pedro Miguel Locks; the locks on both sides of the Isthmus, which raise the vessels between the level of the sea and the Gatun Lake (the Gatun lock on the Caribbean and the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks on the Pacific); and the ports of Balboa on the Pacific and Cristobal on the Caribbean.
When the Canal was built, the Gatun dam was the world's largest earth dam, and Gatun Lake the world's largest artificial lake. Vessels are raised or lowered some 85 feet through the three chambers of the Gatun locks.
The Canal is aggressively maintained. During the last ten years, approximately $100 million have been invested in modernizing its operation.
Panama Canal Authority (Official Website): http://www.pancanal.com
Thanks to Instituto Panameño de Turismo (IPAT): 1-800-231-0568
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