Hidden secrets of the Canal – in English

This post is also available in: Spanish

The oldest library in all of Panama

An old press.

An old press.

Those seeking details on how the Panama Canal is interwoven into fabric of this nation can entertain themselves at the Roberto F. Chiari Library. It is replete with details of the Canal’s construction that were reserved for the privileged few who worked for the Panama Canal Commission, now the Panama Canal Authority (ACP). This holy grail of Canal Zone knowledge is located on the second floor of the 704 Building, former Balboa High School, in Balboa behind the Ascanio Arosemena monument.

According to library administrator, Rolando Cochez Lara, this bibliotheca is the oldest in Panama, having opened eight days after the Panama Canal was inaugurated in 1914. Professional and amateur historians alike consider the place a wonderland of interesting facts about the canal. There are original documents relating to the failed French attempt to build a canal, maps going back to the XVIII century and photographs pay graphic testimony to the greatest engineering feat to date, achieved by mankind over a hundred years ago.

An antique light used to guide ships correctly into the interoceanic waterway.

An antique light used to guide ships correctly into the interoceanic waterway.

The library is charged with the conservation of all the monuments and historical objects related to the canal. Plus it has an extensive number of books of engineering, maritime matters and other technical subjects which are frequently used by ACP employees, university students and the public in general. Around 90% of the books are in English.

On the first floor of the building, artifacts show daily life during the French canal attempt, with displays including cutlery and furniture. On the second floor, photographs of the former Canal governors give a glimpse to the depth of history here.

State of the art

The library has around 400 digitalized books thanks to the efforts of Cochez, a systems engineer and librarian graduated in Brazil, who converts pieces into an electronic format. Pamphlets, postcards, photos and other documents can be seen at:

For those who want to come in person it is open from Monday to Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Previous appointment is not necessary to see rare documents there is always a librarian at hand to help the public.


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One Comment;

  1. Muerra Zabel said:

    Good morning
    I just read this article during my 1-week-stay in Panama. I am working on Henri Pittier, a Swiss biologist who has done scientifique work in your country between 1897 to 1915. I will visit the library in the hope of finding interesting material on that period. Muerra Zabel, Switzerland

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