Fortifications of Portobelo

World Monuments Watch
Portobelo, Panama

2016 World Monuments Watch

The Fortifications of Portobelo are located in the town of the same name, on the Caribbean coast of Panama, 30 miles from the city of Colón. When the Spanish settled in the region during the sixteenth century, Portobelo—its name derived from Puerto Bello, or Beautiful Port—became the primary port for transporting silver to Spain. The fortifications encompass a number of forts, batteries, and other fortified positions that make up some of the most significant examples of Spanish military architecture in the colonies. They were built between the seventeenth and eighteenth century and were strategically located to defend the trade route across the Isthmus of Panama, as part of a larger defensive system in the Caribbean. Some of the fortifications were rebuilt several times after being attacked by pirates and privateers, including Captain Henry Morgan in 1668 and Admiral Edward Vernon in 1739. Following the 1739 attack, Portobelo’s trade activity declined as other safer routes and destinations were sought.

The cultural significance of the Fortifications of Portobelo was recognized through their inscription on the World Heritage List in 1980, along with San Lorenzo Castle in Chagres. In 2012, the sites were included on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to insufficient maintenance, urban encroachment, and adverse environmental conditions. The 2016 World Monuments Watch highlights the urgent need for better management of the landscape around each fortification. The sites exemplify the need for integrated management plans that take conservation, the environment, urban planning, and smart growth into consideration.

Watch Day

Hundreds gathered in March 2017 for a 2-day festival in Portobelo, full of cultural activities, including a presentation of the documentary Portobelo Somos Todos. The film calls for the protection and increased awareness of the city’s cultural heritage.

Last updated: July 2017.

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