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Portobelo, Panama

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Title: Portobelo, Panama  
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Subject: War of Jenkins' Ear, Piracy in the Caribbean, Treasure Island, Port Royal, Edward Boscawen, Viceroyalty of Peru, List of invasions, Burial at sea, Nuestra Señora de Atocha, USS Macedonian (1836)
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Portobelo, Panama

This article is about the city in Panama. For other uses, see Portobello (disambiguation).
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Portobelo, Colón
Location of Portobelo in Panama

Type Cultural
Criteria i, iv
Reference UNESCO region Latin America and the Caribbean

9°33′N 79°39′W / 9.550°N 79.650°W / 9.550; -79.650Coordinates: 9°33′N 79°39′W / 9.550°N 79.650°W / 9.550; -79.650

Inscription history
Inscription 1980 (4th Session)

Portobelo is a port city in Colón Province, Panama. It is located on the northern part of the Isthmus of Panama and has a deep natural harbor. Today, Portobelo is a sleepy city with a population of fewer than 3,000. In 1980 the ruins of the Spanish colonial fortifications, along with nearby Fort San Lorenzo, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Portobelo was founded in 1597 by Spanish explorer Francisco Velarde y Mercado[1] and quickly replaced Nombre de Dios as a Caribbean port for Peruvian silver. Legend has it that Christopher Columbus originally named the port "Puerto Bello", meaning "Beautiful Port", in 1502.[2] It is also said that after Francis Drake died of dysentery in 1596 at sea, he was buried in a lead coffin near Portobelo Bay. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, it was an important silver-exporting port in New Granada on the Spanish Main and one of the ports on the route of the Spanish treasure fleets. The Spanish built defensive fortifications.

The privateer William Parker attacked and captured the city in 1601 and Captain Henry Morgan repeated the feat in 1668. He led a fleet of privateers and 450 men against Portobelo, which, in spite of its good fortifications, he captured. His forces plundered it for 14 days, stripping nearly all its wealth while raping, torturing and killing the inhabitants.

Following the British disaster in the Blockade of Porto Bello under Admiral Hosier in 1726, the port was attacked on November 21, 1739, and captured by a British fleet of six ships, commanded by Admiral Edward Vernon during the War of Jenkins' Ear. The British victory created an outburst of popular acclaim throughout the British Empire. More medals were struck for Vernon than for any other 18th century British figure. Many Portobellos across the British Isles were named in honor of the victory, such as Portobello Road in London, the Portobello area in Edinburgh, and the Portobello Barracks in Dublin.[3]

The Spanish quickly recovered the Panamanian town and defeated Admiral Vernon in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in 1741. Vernon was forced to return to England with a decimated fleet, having suffered more than 18,000 casualties.[4] Despite the Portobelo campaign, British efforts to gain a foothold in the Spanish Main and disrupt the galleon trade were fruitless. Following the War of Jenkins' Ear, the Spanish switched from large fleets calling at few ports to small fleets trading at a wide variety of ports, the flexibility making them less subject to attack. The ships began to travel around Cape Horn to trade directly at ports on the western coast.


In July 2012, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee placed Portobelo and nearby Fort San Lorenzo on the List of World Heritage in Danger, citing environmental factors, lack of maintenance and uncontrollable urban developments.[5]



  • Rodger, N. A. M. The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815.

External links

  • 2009 Festival de Diablos y Congos (in Spanish), Portobelo
  • Devils' Dance celebration in Portobelo, Santiago and La Villa de Los Santos (in Spanish)
  • Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo on UNESCO World Heritage List
  • Portobelo-San Lorenzo on Global Heritage Network
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