In 1501, Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first European to explore the Isthmus of Panama sailing along the eastern coast. A year later Christopher Columbus, sailing south and eastward from upper Central America, explored Bocas del Toro, Veragua, the Chagres River and Porto Belo (Beautiful Port) which he named. Soon Spanish expeditions would converge upon Tierra Firma (also Tierra Firme, Spanish from the Latin terra firma, "dry land" or "mainland") which served in Spanish colonial times as the name for the Isthmus of Panama
In 1509, authority was granted to Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa to colonize the territories between the west side of the Gulf of Uraba to Cabo Gracias a Dios in present-day Honduras. The idea was to create an early unitary administrative organization similar to what later became Nueva EspaÃ±a (now Mexico). Tierra Firme later received control over other territories: the Isla de Santiago (now Jamaica) the Cayman Islands; Roncador, QuitasueÃ±o, and Providencia and other islands now under Colombian control.
Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien
In September 1510, the first permanent European settlement, Santa MarÃa la Antigua del DariÃ©n on the Americas mainland was founded. Vasco NuÃ±ez de Balboa and Martin de Enciso agreed on the site near the mouth of the Tarena River on the Atlantic. Balboa maneuvered and was appointed Mayor on the first official cabildo abierto (municipal council) held on the mainland. On August 28, 1513, the Santa MarÃa de La Antigua del DariÃ©n mission was erected with Fray Juan de Quevedo as the first Catholic Bishop in the continental Americas.
On September 25, 1513 the Balboa expedition verified what the indigenous people had spoken of, that the Panama isthmus had another coast to the southwest along another ocean. Balboa was the first known European to see the Pacific Ocean, which he named the South Sea.
The 'fantastic descriptions' of the isthmus by Balboa, as well as those of Columbus and other explorers, impressed Ferdinand II of Aragon and Castilla, who gave the territory the name of Castilla Aurifica (or Castilla del Oro, Golden Castille). He assigned Pedro Arias DÃ¡vila (Pedrarias Davila) as Royal Governor. Pedrarias arrived in June 1514 with a 22 vessel, 1,500 men armada. DÃ¡vila was a veteran soldier who had served in the wars against the Moors at Granada and in North Africa.
On August 15, 1519, Pedrarias, having abandoned Santa MarÃa la Antigua del DariÃ©n, moved the capital of Castilla del Oro with all its organizational institutions to the Pacific Ocean's coast and founded Nuestra SeÃ±ora de la AsunciÃ³n de PanamÃ¡ (present day Panama City), the first European settlement on the shores of the Pacific.
Governor Pedrarias sent Gil GonzÃ¡lez DÃ¡vila to explore northward, and in 1524 Francisco HernÃ¡ndez de CÃ³rdoba to settle that region (present day Nicaragua). Pedrarias was a party to the agreement authorizing the expedition by conquistadors Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro that brought the European discovery and conquest of the Inca Empire (present day Peru).
In 1526, Pedrarias was superseded as Governor of Panama by Pedro de los RÃos, and retired to LeÃ³n in Nicaragua, where he was named its new governor on July 1, 1527. Here he died on March 6, 1531, at the age of 91.
Panama was part of the Spanish Empire for over 300 years (1513-1821) and her fortunes fluctuated with the geopolitical importance of the isthmus to the Spanish crown. During the 16th and 17th centuries, at the height of the Empire, no other region would prove of more strategic and economic importance.
Governor Pedrarias began building intercontinental and trans-isthmian portage routes, such as the "Camino Real" and "Camino de Cruces", linking Panama City and the Pacific with Nombre de Dios (and later with "Portobelo") and the Atlantic, making possible the establishment of a trans-atlantic system of Treasure Fleets and trade. It is estimated that of all the gold entering Spain from the New World between 1531 and 1660, 60% had arrived at its destiny via the 'Treasure Fleet and Fairs' system from Nombre de Dios/Portobelo.
Explorations and conquest expeditions launched from Panama claimed new lands and riches from Central and South America. Explorations seeking a natural waterway between the Atlantic and the South Sea with the hope of reaching the Molucas (Spice Islands-Maluku Islands) and Cathay (China) were also pursued.
Royal Audiencia of Panama
In 1538 the Audiencia Real de Panama, Royal Audiencia of Panama, was established, initially with jurisdiction from Nicaragua to Cape Horn. A Audiencia Real (royal audiency) was a judicial district that functioned as an appellate court. Each audiencia had oidores (a hearer, a judge).
Strategically located on the Pacific coast, Panama City was relatively free of the permanent menace of pirates that roamed the Atlantic coast for over one and a half century, until it was destroyed by a devastating fire, when the pirate Henry Morgan sacked it on January 28, 1671. It was rebuilt and formally established on January 21, 1673, in a peninsula located 8 km from the original settlement. The place where the previously devastated city was located is still in ruins, and has become a tourist attraction known as "Panama Viejo".
Panama was the location in 1698 of the Darien scheme which set up the ill-fated Scottish "New Caledonia" colony in the region west of the Gulf of Darien in the Bay of Caledonia.. The Darien scheme failed for a number of reasons, and the ensuing Scottish debt contributed to the 1707 Acts of Union that joined the previously separate states of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland - into the Kingdom of Great Britain".
When Panama was colonized, the indigenous peoples who survived many diseases, massacres and enslavement of the conquest ultimately fled into the forest and nearby islands. Indian slaves were replaced by imported enslaved Africans.
The prosperity enjoyed during the first two centuries (1540-1740) while contributing to colonial growth; the placing of extensive regional judicial authority (Real Audiencia) as part of its jurisdiction; and the pivotal role it played at the height of the Spanish Empire -the first modern global empire- helped define a distinctive sense of autonomy and of regional or national identity within Panama well before the rest of the colonies.
In 1744 Bishop Francisco Javier de Luna Victoria y Castro established the College of San Ignacio de Loyola and on June 3, 1749 founded La Real y Pontificia Universidad de San Javier. By this time, however, Panama's importance and influence had become insignificant as Spain's power dwindled in Europe and advances in navigation technique increasingly permitted to round Cape Horn in order to reach the Pacific. While the Panama route was short it was also labor intensive and expensive because of the loading and unloading and laden-down trek required to get from the one coast to the other. The Panama route was also vulnerable to attack from pirates (mostly Dutch and English) and from 'new world' Africans called cimarrons who had freed themselves from enslavement and lived in communes or palenques around the Camino Real in Panama's Interior, and on some of the islands off Panama's Pacific coast. During the last half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th migrations to the countryside decreased Panama City's population and the isthmus' economy shifted from the tertiary to the primary sector.
In 1713, the Viceroyalty of New Granada (northern South America) was created in response to other Europeans trying to take Spanish territory in the Caribbean region. The Isthmus of Panama was placed under its jurisdiction. But the remoteness of New Granada's capitol Santa Fe de BogotÃ¡ proved a greater obstacle than the Spanish crown anticipated as the authority of the new Viceroyalty was contested by the seniority, closer proximity, previous ties to the Viceroyalty of Peru in Lima and even Panama's own initiative. This uneasy relationship between Panama and BogotÃ¡ would persist for a century.
Also See :
Spanish Period in Honduras
Democracy in Costa Rica
Folk and Popular Music in Mexico