Port Royal: Underwater city, pirates and earthquakes

Port Royal, a destination that evokes images of vicious pirates and privateers, treasure, slave trade, prostitution and deathly battles. A city once dubbed “the wickedest city in the world”, is now a well known destination. Port Royal was one of the largest cities in the caribbean and the epicenter for trade and ¬†shipping in the region. It’s history is something straight out of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

Fort Charles constructed in 1660

I’ve visited Port Royal countless times. As children, we begun to learn the intriguing history of the town. Our schools would organize trips there, where we’d learn about it’s alluring and sinful past. Port Royal was a different place back in the 17th century. Many locals believed that the devastating disaster that took place was a direct punishment by God for all that went on there.

Fort Charles, the first fort built in Port Royal.

The town was once inhabited by the Taino Indians before the Europeans arrived. After the Spanish landed in 1494 led by Christopher Columbus, a permanent settlement occurred in 1509. The Spaniards, however, retained it’s Taino name. It’s wasn’t until the invasion of Jamaica that the town was captured by the English. The English first name it “Cagway” then changed it to Port Royal.

Historic battle fort and canons

The town soon became a hub for pirates, which provided them with a safe harbour for their ships. It was from Port Royal that some of history’s most iconic pirates stayed. For example, it was from Port Royal that Henry Morgan, who ¬†later became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica, attacked Panama, Portobello and Maracaibo. The city steadily became a pirate haven and was called “the Sodom of the new world”.

You can just imagine all that scandalous things that went on when the likes of Morgan and Blackbeard came to town. But little did they know that Port Royal would meet would such a terrifying fate. In 1692, a powerful earthquake shook Port Royal to it’s core. The earthquake struck the entire island but Port Royal were at a higher risk. Two-Thirds of the city was sunk underwater, the earth opened swallowing up masses of people, buildings fell, geysers erupted and it was all finished off by a destructive tsunami. This marked the end of Port Royal sinful past.

Parts of Port Royal’s sunken city

 

Today, Port Royal stands as one of Jamaica’s most revered archaeological sites. The underwater pirate city lies 40 feet underwater at the bottom of the Caribbean sea. It is still explored and discoveries continue to be made. Divers come from around the world to see this archaeological site. You do, however, required a permit to dive here.

The exciting and devastating history of Port Royal lies beneath the water with a small part still existing above shoreline. I’m in constant awe of what went on many years ago in a region that’s just a few minutes from where I grew up. The secrets it hides, the deals that were made, the violent and feared pirates that once called it home. I can’t wait to explore it further and see what stories it tells. But Port Royal stands as a reminder that every great and in this case “wicked” city can fall.

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