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Atractions of Portobelo

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Portobelo turistic atractive
Description of Portobelo

Those familiar with Portobelo describe it as a village full of magic, mystery, and miracles with a magnetic force that attracts visitors. Even the orgin of its name is shrouded in myth. Some say that on Columbus’ fourth and final voyage to the New World, he visited Panama’s Caribbean shores. The magnificence of Portobelo’s vegetation and the depth of its bay seduced him to enter and inadvertently name it. The sea weary admiral was so smitten by the splendor of her beauty and the protectiveness of this natural harbor that he exclaimed “que porto bello!”, Italian for “what a beautiful harbor!” Others say it reminded him of the town of Portobelo in Italy.

Language: Spanish. This is a city on the Northern coast of Panama, between San Blas Islands and the Panama Canal.
Population: Less than 4000
Money: The good old US dollar (written as “B’s”, not “$’s,” because they’re still referred to as Balboas.) The coins are partially normal US coinage, or else of the same size but with Panamanian markings.
Landscape: Second-growth tropical forest of mango, sicropia, papaya, palms and bananas. The beaches are of black sand.

For many sea weary Africans, Portobelo was simultaneously the end of the horrid Middle Passage and the beginning of slavery in a foreign land. The Congos of Portobelo are descendants of the cimarrones, runaway African slaves who fiercely fought for their freedom during the Spanish colonial period. After escaping into the hills and the rain forests, the cimarrones built fortified villages known as palenques from which they waged war against their former enslavers. So successful were they in war that the Spaniards were forced to declare several truces, and finally recognize their freedom.
Oral history in Portobelo also tells of a crate containing a black sculptural figure of Jesus Christ magically appearing in the bay during a cholera epidemic. It was brought ashore by two slaves who were fishing. Shortly after, the people of the village began praying before the figure and the epidemic miraculously ended. As a result, each year for the last three centuries on the 21st of October the Feast Day of the Cristo Negro de Portobelo (Black Christ of Portobelo) has been celebrated by as many as 60,000 devotees who make pilgrimages to visit the figure.

The black christ of Portobelo
The 21 of October, Portobelo is the scene of one of the more important religious traditions in Panama: The Miraculous Black Christ of Portobelo. They are congregated in town thousands of travelling coming from all the country, some come walking, others of knees or others comes loading heavy crossings from remote cities in payment to miracles granted by the miraculous Nazareno.
Some come walking from remote cities in payment to favors granted by the miraculous Nazareno. Others come from knees or loading heavy crossings in penance. Several histories exist on the origin of the Black Christ, one of them tells that a boat that went to Cartagena whenever it tried to weigh anchor of Portobelo untied one violent storm, forcing to them to return to the port. In the fifth attempt they were on the verge of being shipwrecked, reason why their crew decided to lighten the load throwing overboard an enormous and heavy box that took in their warehouse. After this the boat moved away without problem. Next fishermen found the box and when they opened it they saw that it was a Nazareno, took it to the town and they placed it in the church.

Several histories exist on the origin of the Black Christ. One of them tells that a boat that went to Cartagena whenever it tried to weigh anchor of Portobelo untied one violent storm, forcing to them to return to the port. In the fifth attempt they were on the verge of being shipwrecked, reason why their crew decided to lighten the load throwing overboard an enormous and heavy box that took in their warehouse. After this the boat moved away without problems. Next fishermen found the box and when they opened it they saw that it was a Nazareno, took it to the town and they placed it in the Church.
Another one of the legend tells that fishermen found a box floating in the sea during a rage epidemic. Inside he was the Christ and they placed it in the church. Almost immediately the epidemic finished and the patients healed quickly.
One third legend assures that the church of Taboga, an island in the Pacific, ordered the image of a Jesus Nazareno to a supplier in Spain. On the other hand, the Church of Portobelo asked for to the same craftsman an image to him of Santo Domingo. One occurred to a mistake when sending the images and San pedro it finished in the Church of Taboga and the Nazareno in Portobelo. All the efforts that were made to try to correct the mistake were unfruitful, because it always happened something that it prevented to the Nazareno to leave the town. This way, the community interpreted the difficulties as a divine message and stopped of the idea to interchange the images.

The peregrination
Hundreds of thousands of catholics, devotee of Jesus Nazareno, the Black Christ of Portobelo, continue arriving at this city to pay their penance by the favors that have received. Some on board do it walking hundreds of kilometers and others of a vehicle, but all to be the Christ in front of. Venancio Ortiz, cures parish priest of the Church of San Felipe de Portobelo, related that from his arrival to the region, for approximately 11 years, it has been observing a travelling strong change in that arrives before the 21 from October, that the not only says to the Nazareno, but that arrives with a religious attitude, deep one of faith, comunión, confession and sacrament.
Ortiz considers that in this celebration people come and goes away full of faith
Like every year, the mass of the special day will be celebrated by monsignor Carlos Maria Ariz, bishop of Columbus and Kuna Yala, accompanied by other priests who come until Portobelo to participate in the procession.
With his passages towards ahead and backwards, it is tried to maintain the rate that the debilitated men of that then took to load the image, steps that occurred because they did not have forces and they jigged about not to fall.

The Congos
One of the town traditions is the Drum of the ” Congos ” during the Carnival this tradition dates of the time of the slavery during the Colony.
It is a ridicule to the Spanish Kings and during the dance, that lasts several days, the participants assume the role of the wild black fleeing from the Spaniards. They hide in different parts from the town and take captives.
The dance has an argument in which the personages who represent the congos fight against the devil, that walks loose during those days. When finalizing they are rescuing by ” Queen Conga ” with the aid of the ” pajarito ” and ” Juan de God ” in these traditions is easy to observe the sincretismo between the catholic religion and the afroantillanos rites.

Portobelo History
San Geronimo Castle (1500 – 1739)

Rodrigo de Bastidas, was a leader of an expedition of exploration, that set sail from Spain in October, 1500, in two ships. Vasco Nuñez de Balboa and Juan de la Cosa, were members of the expedition. They reached what is now know has Venezuela, and continued sailing west along it coast. They sailed past el Cabo de Vela, and reaching el Golfo de Darien, explored it, and the Atrato River. They continued north, along the coast as far as El Retrete, possibly as far as the site were Nombre de Diós, would be founded years later, and even as far as the future site of Porto Bello. Bastidas did not name these two, sites, and it would be up to others, to name them. Because of this, Bastidas has been given the credit for the discovery of Panamá.

Christopher Columbus sailed on his fourth and last voyage of exploration, from Cadiz on May 11, 1502. With him on this voyage was Bartolomé Columbus, his brother, and his second son, Fernando. Stopping off in Española, he had the opportunity to confer with Bastidas, and examine his charts. He sailed west, past Cuba, and landed on the northern coast of Honduras, east of the Yucatan. Skirting the coast of Tierra Firme, he sailed east over the Honduras hump and then south east. He continued skirting the coast of Central America, past Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. On October 6, 1502, they entered Almirante Bay, in what is now known as Panamá. Columbus continued along the coast, eastward, past Chiriqui and Veraguas, past the Chagres River, and the Bay of Limon, until he reached a beautiful bay, that he named Puerto Bello on November 2nd, 1502. They were forced to stay there 7 days, due to inclement weather. By November 24, he had reached the most eastward he would travel on the coast of Panama, at a harbor, that he named El Retrete.

The next person to enter Puerto Bello, was Diego de Nicuesa, the appointed governor of Castilla del Oro. He had the benefits of both Bastides and Columbus’ charts, and was headed to Veraguas, where Columbus had discovered much gold. He had sailed west to the Almirante Bay, and then turned east, in search of Veraguas, and his new lands. They entered the harbor of Puerto Bello, and some of his men were killed by the natives. Nicuesa was given the distinction by the Spanish as the discoverer of “Puerto Bello”, what he officially named it, since he actually entered the harbor and explored the area in 1509. Fearful of the belligerent natives in the area, he continued east, searching for a friendly place to settle, and establish his capital. He eventually arrived in a harbor, where the land appeared fertile, and the coast was building a fort, and Nicuesa ordered, “Paremos aquí, en el nombre de Diós”. Here they founded the town of Nombre de Diós, the first permanent Spanish settlement in Tierra Firme. From here, Nicuesa sailed to Nuestra Señora de Antigua del Darien, to oust Balboa, but was ousted himself, and on March 1, 1511, he was set adrift in a leaky boat, and was never heard from again. At this point, all of the settlers at Nombre de Diós, accepted Balboa’s offer, to relocate to Antigua, and the settlement of Nombre de Diós, was abandoned.

Diego de Albites, a captain who had accompanied Pedrarias from Spain to Tierra Firme, helped establish Panamá in 1517. With permission from Pedrarias, to colonize Veraguas, he sailed form Antigua in 1518. He never reached Veraguas, but he attempted to establish a settlement at Puerto Bello in 1518. In 1519 moved and refounded the settlement that Nicuesa abandoned, Nombre de Diós. This settlement remained as the northern terminus of the trans-isthmian trade. Panama and Nombre de Diós are opposite each other, and gradually, a paved road (El Camino Real) was built connecting both settlement. When the gold from Peru, was shipped to Spain, it was shipped to Panama, on the Pacific, and crossed the isthmus on El Camino Real, to Nombre de Diós, and then shipped to Spain yearly on the Treasure Fleet. The history of Tierra Firme, was controlled by these two settlements for the next 60 years.

On July 29, 1572, Francis Drake, captured the town of Nombre de Diós. He attacked the town, with a force of 73 men, in three pinnaces and a shallop. After a bloody battle, he was able to defeat the defenders. Shortly there after, reinforcements arrived from Panamá, Drake was wounded, and they had to retreat, without much loot. The left behind silver bars, valued at a million pounds sterling, and other treasures. In their fighting, they reached the doors of the Kings Treasure House, but were not able to enter it, before the Spaniards counter attacked.
On April 1, 1573, Drake attacked Nombre de Diós again, this time capturing a mule train, loaded with treasure, outside of Nombre de Diós. This time, they took every thing they could carry. In August, 1595, with a fleet of 26 ships, Drake set out to Panama again, hoping to take Nombre de Diós and the city of Panama. Crossing the isthmus on the Camino Real, his forces were stopped, by well prepared Spaniards. When they got back to Nombre de Diós, they proceeded to burn the city, and then sailed to Puerto Bello. Drake got sick on the way, and died. On January 29, 1596, he was buried at sea in the harbor.

In 1586, the Italian engineer, Juan Bautista Antonelli, was sent by the King of Spain, to examine the different ports in the Caribbean, and make suggestions on how to improve them. Antonelli already had the distinction of having designed several of the major fortresses in the Spanish Indies. At the time, Nombre de Diós was the site where all ships were loaded with treasures for the return to Spain, and Puerto Bello was a small town of only 10 houses. After noting the excellent port facilities and defensible terrain, he wrote to King Felipe of his findings. “If it might please your Majesty, it would be a good idea that the city of Nombre de Dios be brought and built in this harbor”.
The king ordered the move, and San Felipe de Puertovelo was founded on March 20, 1597 by Don Francisco de Valverde y Mercado. He was a factor of New Spain (Mexico) and a comisario. The residents of Nombre de Diós were moved to the new town site (a distance of about 5 leagues). Puertovelo was granted the title of city by orders of Valladolid granted to Nombre de Diós November 23, of 1537. The coat of arms granted to Nombre de Diós on December 7, 1537, was also transferred to Puertovelo. The coat-of-arms was a castle and ship, bordered with the inscription “Tierra Firme, Breñas de oro”
At the same time as the fortress were being built, construction began at the mouth of the Chagre River for another massive fort. In the village of Cruces, smaller forts were built for its defenses along with royal warehouses and buildings, constructed of stone.
The settlement was arranged in the form of a half moon, with the two points, aiming East and West. The bulk of the town was located in the center of the crescent. From the Plaza de la Mar, there were two street, going to the Castillo Santiago. From the Plaza de la Mar, another road continued towards the mountains. First it had to cross a small bridge over a creek (descending from the mountains), and then to another plaza. (the two plazas were about 100 paces apart). There were a lot of cross streets, and the entire community was paced off at 500 paces in each direction. In the town, there were about 50 houses, a cathedral, the Convent of Mercy, a hospital, and the Kings houses on the Plaza de la Mar. The City Government houses, (El Cabildo), were located on the second plaza. Most of the homes were constructed of wood, with stone footers. Some were two-stories, many windows, and tile roofs. There were also some government warehouses. Some of the houses were built of stone and brick, that being the preferred building material, since they thought that they were healthier and wood buildings.
Puertobelo was made up of four suburbs, Triana (where the poor Spaniards, and the Kings slaves lived), Merceds (where the well to do citizens lived), Guinea (residence of the free Negros), and the shanty town. There were some fine houses in the better suburbs, with gardens and plantations. The shanty town, contained about 30 or 40 houses built of cane and straw. The outskirts of town were covered with jungles, and required great effort to keep it under control. The town made its income from brokers, which paid the city a yearly stipend of 2,000 ducats, 2 reales for every head of cattle killed, 2 pesos for every Negro brought to town (this amounted to about 1,500 pesos a year). It biggest expenditure was that of keeping the jungle from overtaking the town, and repairs to the highway to Panamá.
Puertobelo was located 80 leagues, west of Cartagena and 12 leagues to the mouth of the Chagre River. Its domain extended 50 leagues east, to the country of the hostile Indians in Uraba, 9 leagues to Panamá, and to the west, it extended as far as Cocle. Most of its domain in the south was not inhabited by Spaniards, except for an occasional hacienda, on the road to Panamá. There were some small towns, populated by the natives, and some hidden villages that belonged to the Cimarron’s. The weather in Puertobelo was very bad. Located in the tropics, it rain just about every day. From January to April, (the Dry Season) the weather was dryer and healthier.
The Portovelo River emptied into the bay, about 1,000 paces from town. The river was small, and could only be ascended about 1 league by Indian dugout. There was another river, the Dominica, that emptied into the bay. Along the coastline, there were another 24 rivers, that emptied into the sea. The only navigable river was the Chagre, that could be ascended by boat during the winter, getting you within 6 leagues of Panamá.
The Spanish, considered Porto Bello to have the finest harbor in the Americas. “El puerto es el mejor, mas limpio, capaz y seguro de todas las Indias”, from a quote by a Spaniard in 1607. It contained an anchorage of approximately 3 kilometers, extending east to west. The entrance to the harbor, had a passage way of between 1.5 to 1.8 kilometers. The depth at the entrance was 17 fathoms and next to the town, it was 7.5. The harbor was large enough to contain 300 galleons and 1,000 smaller ships, with another 2,000 ships, outside the protection of the forts.

Puertobelo was well defended, by some natural defenses and a series of fortresses, constructed by the Spaniards. El Castillo de San Felipe de Todo Fierro, (the word Fierro means Iron, and is the reason that it is named the Iron Castle on some old maps), was the main defense at the entrance to the harbor. It was located at the base of a large hill, which made up the projection of land on the north side of the harbor. The forts were constructed of coral rock, that was mined underwater, from the reefs all along the coast. The castle walls were about 3 meters thick. While still wet, this rock was very easy to work with, and once dried, it became very strong. It worked like the coquina used in Florida that had the ability to absorbed a cannon ball, without cracking and causing much damage, or exploding. The cannon shots, just put a dent into the surface of the stone. To bind these blocks of stone, the Spaniards used a mixture of red clay with lime, which when hardened, was just as strong as the stone itself. (This stone worked so well, that in 1739, when Admiral Vernon captured Porto Bello, he tried to demolish the fortifications. He claimed that it took him about 18 days to blow them up due to the difficulty of getting explosives into the stone.)
The ravages of the buccaneers on the Spanish Tierra Firme, proved to the Spanish government that the protection it was providing for Panama, was not working. By 1580, they had three Men-of-Wars stationed of the coast of the isthmus as protection from pirates. In 1591, a larger fleet was sent to defend the coast. Land defenses became essential, and Cruces and other points along the Camino Real were fortified. In 1595, the Castillo de San Lorenzo was erected at the mouth of the Chagres River. The defenses of Puerto Bello were also enhanced.
When the Royal Treasure House was moved from Nombre de Diós to Porto Bello, in 1597, engineers were sent from Spain, to build the defensive works of Porto Bello. A very stout fortress was built to protect the entrance to the harbor. San Felipe was equipped with 35 great cannons, and a garrison of 50 soldiers. On the other side of the harbor, a smaller fort, named Santiago, was built. Santiago had 5 cannons, and a garrison of 30 soldiers. In Triana, an eastern suburb of the city, another fortified castle, San Geronimo, was built. Smaller garrisons were built, all around the city, and controlled all approaches to the city. The King’s Treasure House, was solidly built and fortified, and troops were stationed around it, for protection. Porto Bello had a total of 300 soldiers garrison there during the times of the annual fair.

In the early morning of February 7, 1602, Captain William Parker, with 150 men and 2 ships, entered the bay and were challenged by the sentries at Castillo San Felipe. He convinced the sentries that they were a Spanish ship from Cartagena, and was passed through and instructed where to drop anchor and wait for daylight. When the sentries became distracted, his men slipped into small boats and landed at Triana, a suburb of Porto Bello. He set Triana on fire, and then marched onto Porto Bello. After a battle, he was able to capture the governor and the garrison. In the Royal Treasure House, they found over 10,000 ducates, and other booty in the city. He did not attempt to capture the larger forts at the entrance of the harbor. He escaped on two Spanish ships he captured, and sailed past the forts at the entrance of the bay. As he approached San Felipe and Santiago, the open fire and he returning their fire. They fired over 30 cannon shots at him, but all missed their mark, and they were able to slip out to sea, with only one casualty, Captain Parker, who was wounded by musket fire.

The next attack on Porto Bello, was by Henry Morgan, in June, 1668. He appeared with a force of 9 ships and 460 fighting men. They first took the castle of Triana, and blew it up with its defenders. He then advanced on the town, and after some heavy fighting, took it by the next day. They tortured the residents, and plundered all they could find. A force of 1,500 men were sent from Panama to the rescue, but they were routed. Morgan stayed in Porto Bello for about two weeks. Before he left, he burned the town, destroyed the forts and what cannons he did not take, he spiked, so they could never be used again. The booty was valued at 260,000 pesos, besides large quantities of silk, linen, cloth and other merchandise.
In 1679, Porto Bello, again fell prey to pirates, who took all they could find (several thousand pesos of booty). The pirates then planed to take Panama City. Under the command of Captain Bartholomew Sharp, Captain Coxon, Captain Sawkins, Captain William Dampier, Captain Lionel Wafer and a large group of native allies under the command of the cacique Andrés from the Darien. They were never able to take the city of Panama, but they roamed all around the country, plundering and sacking every town and village, they could find up and down the Pacific coast of Central and South America.
The last time Porto Bello was overrun, was on November 21, 1739. Admiral Edward Vernon, with a force of 6 ships, 2,735 men, 370 cannons entered the harbor. During the day, a battle was fought between the English ships and the Spanish forts. After a continuous bombardment, the city and fortifications, surrendered to the English. The inhabitants were not molested and the town was not pillaged. The pay for the defenders of the fort, was captured (10,000 pesos) and was distributed among the English troops and sailors. Vernon took all of the cannons he could and then spiked the rest, and destroyed the fortifications, before leaving.

Portobelo ecology
At the Portobelo present time it is the destiny par excellence for the activities as the diving and the fishing, among others.
The Portobelo National Park
The park is located in the province of Columbus and dista 125 kilometers by highway from the city of Panama. It has a surface of 35.929 hectares.
It was created in 1976. In its interior is one of more beautiful the natural most important ports of all Caribbean, the bay of Portobelo, baptized thus by Cristóbal Columbus in year 1502, its room and last trip to the New World. The fortifications that are conserved surrounding the cove were declared by UNESCO in 1980 Site of the World-wide Patrimony. To the north of the Isthmus in the slope of the Caribbean with 70 kms. of coastal areas with coraliferas rich palms and formation that gives attractive a landscaping one him of first order. It was at famous the host colonial time of the fair of the galleons with own military fortifications of the time of the conquest, there its historical-cultural value.

The national park emphasizes by its historical and cultural values. The city of San Felipe de Portobelo, who gives name to the protected area, was founded by D. Francisco Valverde and Mercado the 20 of May of 1597. In the middle of century XVII it reached his maximum splendor when becoming the place in which all the wealth were concentrated, that coming from Peru and of other South American countries arrived by earth from the city of Panama through the Way of Crossings.
Magnificent fortifications were constructed to protect the entrance of the port and the city of the attacks of pitatas and privateers. The fort of San Fernando, the Trench, the fort of Santiago and the castle of San Felipe of the Nose are conserved in the Historical Monumental Set of Portobleo. The old House of Customs, one of the prinicpales colonial constructions, recently has been recovered with the collaboration of the Spanish government.
The famous fairs of Portobelo did of this city per it of the colonial Caribbean during almost two hundred years. There the retailers of the old and new world agreed to make their sales and transactions. Front sight of the English privateers, the city, after undergoing diverse watchings was sacked in 1668 by Henry Morgan. The privateer Francis Drake was thrown to the sea after his death, to a flank of the denominated Rock of Drake, as opposed to the coasts of Portobelo in 1596.

The annual average precipitation is of 4.800 mm and the annual average tempertaura oscillates between the 27ºC of its coasts and low earth, until the 24ºC in its higher zones. This allows the development of premontanos pluvial forests, tropical very humid forests, very humid premontanos and tropical humid forests. The topography of the park is very complicated. Its higher point is Hill Witch, with 979 meters of altitude, located in the dividing one of continental waters. In its interior they are the Weeping mountain range, denominated thus by the amount of water that receives, Bread hills of Sugar and Palms and one narrow mountainous strip within the North limit of the river basin of the Panama Canal.
The national park protects the source and hydrographic river basins of most important of the region like the Gravel pit, the Guanche, Stones, the Iguana, the Iguanita and the Shoulder.
In the 70 kilometers of the gorgeous coast between the bay of San Cristóbal, to the north, and the bay of Good luck, to sure, important chorale reef extensions, forests of manglares, coastal lagoons and beaches of a great landscaping value are developed, in where four species of marine turtles nidifican every year, among them the threatened turtle sea turtle (imbricata Eretmochelys). In the coast it is easy to observe the fishing eagle (Pandion Haliaetus), to the sparrowhawk crab seller (Buteogallus anthracinus) and to the fastened with bars heron tiger (Tigrisoma fasciatum). The green iguana (iguana Iguana) is abundant in the protected area. Between the birds fisherman of the Isthmus is necessary to emphasize the presence of greatest martín (torquata Ceryle), elanio plomizo (plumbea Ictinia) and of the greater black sparrowhawk (Buteogallus urubitinga). In the coasts, in individual in manglar, the mangletero cat is abundant or raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus), whereas in the rivers the water cat takes refuge or otter (Lontra longicaudis) and in the most remote forests of the protected area the groups of cariblancos monkeys are observed (Cebus capucinus). The most common species are the manglatero cat, the lined tiger and herons.


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Citar este texto en formato APA: _______. (2011). WEBSCOLAR. Atractions of Portobelo. https://www.webscolar.com/553. Fecha de consulta: 28 de septiembre de 2020.

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