Portobelo (Spanish: "beautiful port", historically in English: Porto Bello) is an historic port and corregimiento in Portobelo District, Colón Province, Panama, Central America, with a population of 4,559 as of 2010[update]. Located on the northern part of the Isthmus of Panama, it is 32 km (20 mi) northeast of the modern port of Colón now at the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. It functions as the seat of Portobelo District. Established in 1597 during the time of the Spanish empire due to its deep natural harbor, it served as one of the two ports (together with Veracruz 2,066 km (1,284 mi) to the northwest) through which Spanish treasure was shipped from the mines of Peru (via Panama City on the Pacific side of the Isthmus and overland to Portobelo) back to Spain. It was destroyed by the British in 1739 during the War of Jenkins' Ear.
Corregimiento and city
Portobelo ruins and bay
|Founded by||Francisco Velarde y Mercado|
|• Land||244.7 km2 (94.5 sq mi)|
|• Density||18.6/km2 (48/sq mi)|
|Population density calculated based on land area.|
|Time zone||UTC−5 (EST)|
It was slowly rebuilt and its economy revived briefly in the late-19th century during the construction of the Panama Canal. In 1980 UNESCO designated the ruins of the Spanish colonial fortifications, along with nearby Fort San Lorenzo, as a World Heritage Site named "Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo".
Portobelo was colonized in 1597 by Spanish explorer Francisco Velarde y Mercado 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. After Francis Drake died of dysentery in 1596 at sea, he was buried at sea in a lead coffin near Portobelo Bay, memorialised by the present Isla Drake ("Drake Island") at the mouth of the harbour. During the 16th to the 18th centuries it was an important silver-exporting port in New Granada on the Spanish Main and one of the two Atlantic ports on the route of the Spanish treasure fleets. The Spanish built defensive fortifications.
The Capture of Portobello was effected in 1601 by the English privateer William Parker and Captain Henry Morgan repeated the feat in 1668, having led a fleet of privateers and 450 men and overcome its strong fortifications. His forces plundered it for 14 days, stripping nearly all its wealth and raping, torturing and killing the inhabitants. It was captured again in 1680 by John Coxon.
In 1726 the British suffered a disaster in their Blockade of Porto Bello under Admiral Francis Hosier, an attempt to prevent the Spanish treasure fleet returning to Spain, when due to their lengthy wait and inactivity (as ordered by the British government) moored at Bastimentos 11 km (6.8 mi) to the northeast (not to be confused with another Bastimentos Island 270 miles to the west), the large part of the sailors died from tropical diseases. The disaster was vindicated 13 years later when during the War of Jenkins' Ear the port was attacked and captured on November 21, 1739, by a British fleet of six ships commanded by Admiral Edward Vernon. The 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 and across the British Isles the name of "Portobello" was given to places and streets in honor of the victory, most notably Portobello Road in London, the district of Portobello in Edinburgh and the Portobello Barracks in Dublin.
However the Spanish soon recovered Portobelo when in 1741 they defeated Admiral Vernon in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias and forced him to return to England with a decimated fleet, having suffered more than 18,000 casualties. British efforts to gain a foothold on the Spanish Main and disrupt the galleon trade were ultimately fruitless. Following the War of Jenkins' Ear, the Spanish switched from using large fleets calling at few ports to small fleets trading at a wide variety of ports, developing a flexibility that made them less subject to attack. Ships also began to travel around Cape Horn to trade directly at ports on the western coast.
The population of Portobelo in 1990 was 3,058 and in 2000 was 3,867. In July 2012 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee placed Portobelo and nearby Fort San Lorenzo on the List of World Heritage in Danger, inscribed as Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo, citing environmental factors, lack of maintenance, and uncontrolled urban developments.
- "Cuadro 11 (Superficie, población y densidad de población en la República...)" [Table 11 (Area, population, and population density in the Republic...)] (.xls). In "Resultados Finales Básicos" [Basic Final Results] (in Spanish). National Institute of Statistics and Census of Panama. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
- Shirley Fish (17 May 2011). The Manila-Acapulco Galleons: The Treasure Ships of the Pacific with an Annotated List of the Transpacific Galleons 1565-1815. AuthorHouse. pp. 45–. ISBN 978-1-4567-7542-1. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
- Patricia Katzman (10 February 2006). Panama. Hunter Publishing, Inc. pp. 136–. ISBN 978-1-58843-529-3. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
- Rogoziński, Jan (1997). The Wordsworth dictionary of pirates. Ware: Wordsworth Reference. p. 266. ISBN 1-85326-384-2.
- Brendan Simms (8 December 2008). Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714-1783. Basic Books. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-465-01332-6. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
- Duncan, Francis. History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, London, 1879, Vol.1, p.123, Quote:"...so reduced was this force in two years by disaster and disease, that not a tenth part returned to England...'thus ended in shame, disappointment, and loss, the most important, most expensive, and best concerted expedition that Great Britain was ever engaged in'...".
- Panamanian Fortifications Added to UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger Archived 2015-04-08 at the Wayback Machine, Global Heritage Fund blog article
- Rodger, N. A. M. The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815.
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