Many scientist sustain that “in order to understand life one must understand the Tropics”, and in my wanderings I have found that “in order to understand Panama one has to go back one thousand years in history”, since Panama´s genesis dates back to when the Turks conquered Constantinople thus, severing the ancient Silk Route and Spices Route.
Pepper, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg had the topmost value in the Medieval Europe. The good old pepper was introduced to Europe by the Greeks four centuries before Christ, later the Roman Empire adopted it in their cuisine after the Antium Battle in the year 31 b.C. when they conquered Egypt and opened a commercial route trough the Red Sea to the West Indies where the Spice Islands are located.
Pepper´s price went as high as gold´s, and even turned into an accepted currency and a symbol of riches and power. There was not a respectable dinner or feast offered by the lords or the nobility where a generous portion of pepper was not in use. The more pepper was used in the seasoning of the food, the higher the rank of the nobleman host.
Wheh the Turks conquered Constantinople thus blocking the route to the Spice Islands, they slashed the monopoly of this profitable market the Venetians and Genovese held up to that time . Then Spain launched a search for an alternate route since the Portuguese had already rounded the tip of Africa two years ahead of the Spaniards.
It is here then that a dauntless and obsessed Genoese sailor step into the stage of history: Christopher Columbus.
This seafearer is convinced that the earth is round and one can reach the East Indies by sailing due West.
Possessed by his own Project he managed to convinced the Catholic Monarchs to lent him their support for his endeavor specially Queen Isabella who ends up pawning her jewels in order to finance the Columbus adventure. This odyssey concluded –and at the same time creates the scenario for a bigger one— on the 12 of October of 1492 when Columbus sets foot on the Guanahani Island beaches, today, the Watling Island on the Bahamas, and deliriously claims that they have reached Cipango, the distant land of Japan.
On his forth and last voyage to America he skirts up an down the coastal line of Central America searching for the elusive pass to the Spice Islands, thinking enthusiastically that he is has reached the Chinese province of Cathay.
At the end of November of 1502, the Grand Admiral navigates in front of the Chagres River mouth and names it the “Alligators River”, skirts further down and then founds the village of Portobelo in a small yet tranquil and beautiful bay. Columbus would never know that he just bypassed the entrance to the pass between the oceans that has eluded him for so long. He would die without realizing that he had discovered an enormous and rich new continent and that along that “Alligators River” would eventually be constructed the fabulous Panama Canal.