Towns of Jamaica: Port Royal Makes a Comeback
Port Royal is a town located at the end of the Palisadoes spit at the mouth of Kingston Harbor, in southeastern Jamaica. When only a sand spit, it was first used by the Tainos as a fishing camp. Founded by the Spanish in the 16th century, it was once the largest city in the Caribbean. It functioned as the center of shipping and commerce in the Caribbean Sea by the latter half of the 17th century. Port Royal was known in the 17th century as "the wickedest and richest city" in the world. It was destroyed by an earthquake on 7 June 1692. Another severe earthquake occurred in 1907. Plans to revitalize Port Royal made 20 years ago have finally come to fruition with the visit of a cruise ship on January 20, 2020.
Cruise Ship Visit
Monday, January 20, marked the inaugural call of the cruise ship, Marella Discovery II, to the historic town of Port Royal. This ship is part of the British cruise line Marella Cruises, a subsidiary of the TUI Group. Visitors enjoyed a cultural display at Port Royal, a tour of various sites in the Corporate Area and nearby parishes. A floating pier was built specifically to ease access to the mainland. Attractions to welcome visitors include a restored Fort Charles, a museum, and a live archaeological dig. The visitors said that they were pleased with the day’s activities.
The city’s promotion as a port of call for cruise ships began in 2018 and is marketed jointly with Kingston as a tourist destination. Marella Discovery 2 can carry as many as 1,800 passengers. It is expected to transport tourists chiefly from Europe when Port Royal becomes the second stop in Jamaica on the ship’s itinerary. The Port Royal cruise port has attracted considerable interest from various cruise lines in the United States and Europe.
One of the oldest and most historic regions of the country, Port Royal has maintained much of its independence as well as its heritage. Once the enclave of pirates and other outlaws, there is still a strong seafaring tradition. The Taino Indians occupied this area as a fishing camp for centuries before the Europeans. The Taínos were an Arawak people who were the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Florida. The Spanish established the town in 1518. As a port city, it was notorious for its gaudy displays of wealth and loose morals. It was a popular homeport for privateers to spend their treasure during the 17th century. Pirates from around the world congregated at Port Royal, coming from waters as far away as Madagascar.
Despite all, the waters around Port Royal are a virtual archaeological gold mine, filled with pieces of history that tell of everyday life in the earliest days of English occupation. Port Royal is also home to the Archaeological Division of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), which recently completed a sonar survey of the underwater city. A sunken pirate ship in the Kingston Harbor was revealed by the sonar. To date thousands of artefacts have been recovered, some of which are being displayed in a local museum. After the 1692 disaster, Port Royal's commercial role was steadily taken over by the nearby town of Kingston. Plans were developed in 1999 to redevelop the small fishing town as a heritage tourism destination to serve cruise ships. These plans have now come into being.
Port Royal is a community of proud people, defensive of their privacy, yet warm and welcoming to those interested in visiting. The community is especially close-knit because of its layout - everywhere in town is within walking distance, and there are several generations of people all living together. The town's best attribute is its comfortable, laid-back temperament. On any given day there are children playing in the streets, young adults gathered in groups hanging out, and older folk sitting on verandas watching the world go by.
Pirates! In the 17th century, Port Royal was the headquarters of the many swashbuckling scoundrels that plundered the high seas. Known then as "the wickedest and richest city" of the world, pirates congregated there. Of the more famous pirates are Sir Henry Morgan, Calico Jack and Blackbeard Teach.
Be sure to stop by the Giddy House at Fort Charles. The building, which was built in 1888 to house the artillery store for the fort, was jolted to its present precarious position during the 1907 earthquake. Walking through the building wreaks havoc on the senses, creating a nauseating effect. Go to Fort Charles and ask for either Molly or Rally. Both are Jamaica National Heritage Trust Tour Guides at Fort Charles and both live in the town nearby. They each know much about the history of Port Royal - not just the history of Fort Charles. They are also willing to share not just their knowledge, but also their memories of growing up in Port Royal. Also, ask Molly any questions you have about St Peter's Church. She is also the secretary there.
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Bio - Jacqueline Cameron
Jacqueline Cameron is a writer with decades of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to policy documents. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She has Masters’ Degrees in the fields of engineering and management from McMaster University and University of Pennsylvania respectively. Jacqueline loves to see people transformed through her work.