Pedro Arias de Ávila

(1443 - 1531)

Pedro Arias de Ávila, also referred to Pedrarias, was born in Segovia. He was well connected, since he was married to Isabela de Bobadilla, one of the ladies in waiting of Queen Isabela la Catolica. He was a colonel, who severed with distinction during Spain's African War, was appointed as the new governor of the province of Nueva Andalucia and parts of Castilla del Oro on July 27, 1513. This new united province, was given the name of Castilla Aurifica (Golden Castle), and extended as far as Veraguas. He was 70 years old at the time, and attacked his new assignment with the vitality of a 30 year old. He was sent to Santa Maria la Antigua de Belen,  to replace Balboa, after the King heard the story of Balboa's actions against Nicuesa and Enciso. 

Pedrarias sailed from Lucar on April 11, 1514, with a force of eighteen ships and 1,500 men. Hernando de Sota, was on of the men that accompanied Pedrarias on this expedition. They first arrived at Santa Marta, in Colombia, and shortly there after, arrived at Antigua, on hearing of the new governor, and the change in government, the population became worried. They had all participated in the overthrow of Nicuesa and Enciso, but Balboa, convinced them that they should welcome the new governor with open arms. 

On June 30, 1514, Pedrarias arrived at Santa Maria la Antigua de Darien, and formally took control of the government. He asked Balboa, pretending to be a friend, to prepare a written report on all of his experiences and events that had occurred in the colony. Balboa prepared the document giving complete details of all that had transpire during his command of the region. No sooner did Balboa give the report to Pedrarias, when he did an about face, and turned against Balboa. Balboa was spared harsh punishment, had it not been for the bishop and the alcalde, who defended him.

During Pedrarias first year, all sorts of problems ensued. Many men died, over 700 during the first four months, of disease. Famine became a problem, since most of the food brought from Spain, spoiled in the humid climate.  Over a hundred colonist, abandoned Antigua and returned to Cuba, out of fear for their life and health. King Ferdinand, ordered that settlements be established at different places in the new province of Castilla Aurifica and to explore the Mar del Sur, causing Pedrarias to release Balboa, and make use of his services. All along, he was very jealous of Balboa's personality and the love and respect that most of the colonist had for him. Trying to put a good face on the situation, Pedrarias gave one of his daughters to Balboa as a wife, to cover his dislike towards him.

Pedrarias' forces had little luck, in establishing settlements, because of their bad  treatment the natives, and stealing their gold. The natives were always attacking their settlements. Even the caciques that Balboa had peace treaties with, were abused by the Spaniards.

In 1517, one of Pedrarias' commanders, Gaspar de Espinosa, established the town of Panama, at a fisherman's hamlet the Indians called Panama, as the most southern station on the line of outposts that crossed the Isthmus. Gabriel de Rojas, was left in Panama with a small force, with the job of building a small fort and garrison. Pedrarias had written to the Spanish Court in 1516: "Your Highnesses should know that Panama is a fishery on the coast of the South Sea and the fishermen are called Panama by the Indians." 

By this time, the envoy Balboa has sent to Spain, with the treasures he sent the King, and the chronicles of his explorations, were presented to the King. The King than forgave Balboa, and appointed him as Adelantado of the South Sea. When Balboa heard of his appointment, he sent to Cuba, a request for men and supplies, so that he could start his exploration of the South Sea. When Pedrarias heard of this, he had Balboa arrested again. Again, the bishop interceded, and Balboa was released. Balboa, then proceeded to make plans for this exploration of the South Sea, and built four brigantines.

In 1515, reports were sent to the King, by Oviedo, the veedor, who was back in Spain by October, and by Bishop Quevedo, who was also in Spain, about the continuing battles between Pedrarias and Balboa, all of the obstructions he was placing in front of Balboa's attempts at exploring the South Sea,  and all the problems Pedrarias was having governing the new province. The King decided to replace Pedrarias with a new governor, and Pedrarias decided to get rid of Balboa, before the new governor arrived. Unfortunately for Balboa, his powerful friends in Santa Maria la Antigua de Darien, were in Spain at the time, and could not defend him. Balboa was charged, tried and quickly executed on April 16, 1517, along with some of his lieutenants and friends.

King Ferdinand died on January 23, 1516, and his successor, his grandson, Carlos I, selected the new governor of the area. He selected Lope de Sosa, who was the governor of the Canary Island. Sosa was in no hurry to get to his new post, and did not arrive until May, 1520. In the interim, Pedrarias had his way, as acting governor of the province. Antigua was granted metropolitan status, with its own coat of arms, making it the first European city on the American continent, as well as the seat of the first bishopric on the continent. 

Pedrarias moved the seat of government from Santa Maria la Antigua de Darien to Panama, even though Antigua had been granted metropolitan status. He took all of the men that wanted to go with him, all of the treasure he could, and the city counsel and administrators. On January, 1519, they went back to Panama, and reestablished the post that had been abandon back in 1517  Pedrarias arrived in Panama on August 15, 1519, and officially founded the city of Nuestra Señora de Asunción de Panamá, (Our Lady the Assumption of Panama), in the name of Doña Juana, the Queen of Castilla and Don Carlos, her young son who was now the king. 

In 1519, they again, re-founded the town of Acla de Nombre de Dios, which had been abandoned by Nicuesa, some years early. Acla de Nombre de Dios, and Panama, were now directly opposite each other on the isthmus.

In May, 1520, Lope de Sosa, the new governor arrived in Antigua. Just as Sosa was preparing to disembark, to assume his duties as the new governor, he died, and once again, Pedrarias luck held out. he again, proposed moving the capital to Panama, but was opposed by Oviedo, who was now the regido perpetuo (the Perpetual Regent). Pedrarias went to Panama, and Oviedo stayed in Santa Maria la Antigua de Darien.

Pedrarias, eventually got rid of Oviedo, who returned to Spain. Antigua was eventually abandoned and the people moved to Acla del Nombre de Dios and Panama. Panama was given a coat of arms on September 15, 1521. The Episcopal See was transferred from Antigua in 1524. Panama had now become the capital of Tierra Firme

Coat of Arms for the City of Panamá

Pedrarias now concentrated in the exploration and development of the country. In 1516, the colony of Natá, was established. In 1521, the settlement of Alanje (Santiago del Angel) was established, in the area of Chiriqui. This was the original capital of Chiriqui (now the city of David, holds this distinction).

He first aided and supported, but later hindered, Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro in their conquest of Peru. Initially, he owned one-third of the company that was financing Pizarro's expedition, but not having much faith in its ability to succeed, sold his share.

Pedro Arias de Ávila, died in the city of Leon, Nicaragua, on March 6, 1531, at the age of 91.