The Panama Canal is a canal made through the Isthmus of Panama in its lowest part bisecting the continents of North and South America and connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in Central America. The building of the canal was one of the largest and most daring engineering projects ever undertaken, yet all the difficulties have been repaid hundredfold, because this project has had an enormous impact on shipping, as it removes the need for ships to travel a long and treacherous route through the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America.
The idea of construction of a canal in Panama that would join two oceans and thus greatly simplify many sea voyages goes back to the early 1500s when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, suggested that a canal in Panama would be built in order to ease ship voyages. A survey of the Isthmus of Panama and a working plan for the canal were drawn up in 1529, the European political situation along with the level of technology development of that time having made the project unfeasible.
The first actual attempt to build the canal took place only in 1880, under the French leadership. The reason why France began this colossal enterprise was a continuous argument between Great Britain and the United States, which were contesting each other's right to carry on the construction. Having used this dispute, France started the Panama Canal construction on its own. However, due to financial difficulties -- as well as enormous fraudulent actions of the construction company -- the building was frozen and eventually transferred to the United States.
The United States under Theodore Roosevelt bought out the French equipment, and began working over the Panama Canal in 1904. A great investment was made in eliminating disease from the area, and construction of an elevated canal with locks began briskly. The building of a 51-mile long canal was accompanied by swarms of problems, including diseases like malaria and yellow fever, and massive landslides. Overall lethal human casualties during construction of the canal are usually estimated at the rate of 27,500 workers, both at the French and American periods of building. The canal actually started functioning in 1914 with the transit of the cargo ship Ancon, the official opening ceremony though taking place only in 1920.
Until recently, the Panama Canal and the surrounding zone have been administered by the United States. Still, on September 7, 1977 the US President Jimmy Carter signed the so-called Torrijos-Carter Treaty, described the procedure of handing over the canal to Panamanian control. Being highly controversial within the United States, the Treaty came into effect on December 31, 1999. Since that time the canal has been run by the Panama Canal Authority.
The canal has been and still is enormously successful, it keeps being a nucleus of the world shipping. Each year the canal accommodates the passage of over 14,000 ships, their carrying capacity exceeding 203 million tons of cargo. Approximately 800,000 ships have passed through the Panama Canal since its completion. At the moment, special luxurious Panama cruises are being undertaken in order to make tourists acquainted with the Panamanian history and nature. So, if you want to breathe in the air of history go on Panama cruise.