Panama, Isthmus of, formerly called the Isthmus of Darien (q.v.), embraces the narrowest part (35 miles) of Central America, connecting Costa Rica on the W. with Colombia on the E. Formerly a department of Colombia, it asserted its independence in 1903 and formed a republic, which was at once recognised by the United States, and since by the chief European powers. With an area of 31,570 sq. m., and a pop. of about 340,000, it is traversed by a low chain of mountains, forming the barrier between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The chief trading ports are Panama and Colon (Aspinwall).
Panama, capital of the dep., stands on a projecting volcanic rock on the Pacific side; the massive walls the Spaniards built to protect their treasure city still stand in places. Old Panama, founded in 1518, was captured and destroyed by the buccaneers under Morgan (1671). Modern Panama was built two years later, 4 1/2 miles distant from the old city; pop. 28,000, the majority of Indian and negro descent, and half-breeds. Fires have destroyed Panama repeatedly, as well as its sister city Colon. The principal buildings are the cathedral (1760), town-hall, and bishop's palace (1880). Panama is connected with Colon on the Atlantic by the Panama Railway (48 miles long), built by Americans in 1850-55.