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The Pacific coastline, with the Azuero Peninsula jutting south to define the Gulf of Panama, is longer than the Atlantic coastline.The area of the country is 25,590 square miles (74,046 square kilometers). In 2000, Panama had approximately 2.816 million inhabitants, 700,000 of whom lived in Panama City, with another 300,000 in the immediate suburbs.There is a longtime Chinese community, and a small Hindu community lives in the capital, Panama City.The largest demographic group is the interioranos ("interior people"), who are classified as "Hispano-Indians." This group is largely mestizo (mixed European and native American), and its members consider themselves the "real Panamanians." Some interioranos grade imperceptibly into an acculturated native American population known pejoratively as cholos, who refer to themselves as naturales ("natives").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.People of African descent account for 15 percent of the population.
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.Local traders engaged in smuggling until Spain shifted the official gold route to Cape Horn, and the area entered a period of commercial decline.After independence from Spain and union with Colombia in 1821, the isthmus again became an important transit route. The United States completed a railroad across the area in 1855 to expedite movement to the gold fields in California. The country is a natural land bridge connecting the South American continent with Central America.The isthmus runs east-west in the form of an inverted "S." Low mountains run through most of the country, leaving a gap in the center that is nearly at sea level.