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They speak English, French, or an English patois at home and are mostly Protestant. The official language is Spanish, but English is used widely in business, especially banking and tourism, and by some people of African descent. Some coins bear the image of Urraca, an Indian chief who resisted the Spanish conquests, but most coins depict Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean. Panama became an autonomous nation because of its function as the custodian of the transisthmus shipping route—the "path between the seas." It gained independence in 1903 as part of an American-sponsored revolt against Colombia that led to the signing of a treaty granting the United States the right to build the Panama Canal.

Survivors of the burning of Panama City in 1671 rebuilt a walled bastion on a rocky promontory to the west.

This became the home of the colonial administration and the Creole elite, who lived in two-story mansions.

The walled city survives as the Casco Viejo, and the areas adjacent to it are now densely populated slums.

Bella Vista, a gracious area of Art Deco mansions for the elites grew up in the 1920s along the bay. On the "Zone" side there was parkland, with occasional housing clusters.

After 1538, it was used as a land route to Spain's South American colonies and a transshipment point for Andean gold.

From 1568 to 1671 there was series of pirate raids, and in 1671 Panama City was sacked by buccaneers under the command of Sir Henry Morgan.

Residents of that area were called "Zonians" and remained American citizens even after three generations of residence.