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Portobelo-San Lorenzo

Portobelo-San Lorenzo
The Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo form part of the defence system built by the Spanish Crown to protect transatlantic trade. They are magnificent examples of 17th- and 18th-century military architecture.

The forts, castles, barracks and batteries of Portobelo created a defensive line around the bay and protected the harbour; the works at San Lorenzo guarded the mouth of the Chagres River.


Jorge Sanchez (Spain):
When I arrived to Colon city through a boat journey from Bocas del Toro, I caught a bus to Portobelo to visit the vestiges of an old colonial town from where the Quinto Real (a fifth part of the silver and gold extracted from the mines in America) was sent to the Spanish Monarchy in payment for the material, the mercury and expertise men who exploited the mines (the 80 percent of the metals, increased to the 95 per cent in the future, remained in America to develop the American cities).
Portobelo, together with Veracruz and Cartagena de Indias, were the three ports from where the precious metals were embarked to Spain.
Unfortunately in 1984, when I travelled to Portobelo, the site was not much preserved and only saw ruins, rests of fortresses, walls and some old weapons. After a couple of hours I returned to Colon, somewhat disappointed, since I had expected much more of the historical Portobelo.
As somebody noticed in another report about Portonbelo, that was the place where died the bloody criminal and slave trader Drake, a most sinister english pirate and assassin, an english version of Bin Laden that today would have been considered a most wanted terrorist, searched until found by the international law, and hanged.
Date posted: April 2014
Anthony Delgado (USA):
I just returned form a visit to Portobelo(Feb. 2011) The heavy rains have taken a toll on the whole area. The road to Portobelo, still had several damaged spots that slowed down traffic. The town of Portobelo had had several house destroyed by landslides with loss of lives. The Fort also suffered damage form the landslides. Parts of the wall had collapsed and huge tree trunk were still in the process of being removed. The site was undergoing repair and restoration. All in all, it is a beautiful site to visit.
Date posted: March 2011
Portobelo is a nice site but nothing more than that. Trash, not well preserved, dangerous roads full of buses that run without any speed control. If you go there, go in dry season and beware of rural "diablos rojos" (red evil buses).
Paul Tanner (UK):
Panama has quite a lot going for it as a tourist destination – excellent bird watching and diving, the San Blas Islands (run as an autonomous province by the indigenous peoples), several colonial historical sites plus the incomparable Canal (which is not a WHS but should be even though it is not even on the Tentative list). If you have time it IS worth the detour to go the 50kms from Colon to Portobelo. This sleepy village was at one time a pivotal location within the Spanish Empire for the transport of gold to Europe, lying as it did at the Atlantic end of a stone highway from Panama City.
I quote :- “Portobelo was the port of entry and of exit for all of South America. The exchange of merchandise took place annually at Portobelo in the form of a fair which lasted from 30 to 60 days. During this time, this sleepy little place was a beehive of activity. Transactions frequently totaled from 10 to 12 million gold pesos. These fairs took place once each year until 1738 when, as a result of continual attacks by pirates, Spain was forced to abandon the Isthmian route for the longer but more secure one around Cape Horn. The frequent pirate attacks forced the Spaniards to adopt a convoy system. Each year two fleets of 40 to 70 ships sailed from Spain, one bound for Veracruz, the other for Portobelo. The arrival of the fleet signaled the opening of the great fair."
For the English (and perhaps for others too) this spot has the added interest of being the burial place for that well known “state supported” pirate Sir Frances Drake (he who “singed the king of Spain’s beard”)! In 1596, after a failed expedition to cross the Isthmus and raid Panama city for the gold which had been collected there for transportation to Europe, he died of dysentery and was buried at sea in a lead coffin.
As you will see from the photo, the ruins of the fort (then the height of military sophistication) are quite well preserved and the situation of the port among green islands and hills is very pleasant. Just relax, let your mind wander and try to imagine those far off days and the impact this place had on world history .

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Site info

Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo
Country: Panama
Inscribed: 1980
  • In Danger
    Cultural Heritage
    Criteria:  (1) (4)
    Category: Secular structure, Military / Fortifications

    Site history:
    2012In Danger
    "site .. is deteriorating at a rate which could undermine the outstanding universal value for which it was inscribed."
    1980 Inscribed
    Reasons for inscription

    Site links

    Official website:

    In the news:
    Not available

    Related links:
    » Wikipedia.
    » Photo site - 33 of Portobelo.

    Getting there

    This WHS has 2 location(s).


    Coral Masonry . Neoclassical architecture .
    Prison .
    Caribbean Sea .
    Camino Real .
    Human Activity
    Art Colonies . Piracy .
    Individual People
    Sir Francis Drake .
    Built in the 17th century .
    Built or owned by Spanish .
    WHS on Other Lists
    U.S. Ambassadors Fund . World Monuments Watch (past) .

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