Port Royal, Jamaica
A drive to Port Royal is also a must. The island stands at the end of the Palisadoes, a promontory that nearly encircles the waterfront. Port Royal has a long and interesting history and has had many names, both official and unofficial. It was originally called Cayo de Carena, because Spanish vessels would be hauled on shore and then laid on their sides so the hulls could be careened – repaired and cleared of barnacles. The English named it the Point, and realizing its strategic importance built Fort Cromwell, later renamed Fort Charles. It was te first of six forts to be built manned by a garrison of more than 2,500 men. A town developed to service the needs to the garrison, its soldiers and the pirates who also used it as a base, and at one time there were said to have been one inn or rum shop for every ten residents, and this gave rise to some of its nicknames, including the Babylon of the West, City of Gold and Sin City. One writer described it as : ‘the richest, wichedest city in Christendom’.
On 7 June 1692, Port Royal ws struck by a massive earthquake and tidal wave. More than 2,000 people died and most of the buildings were destroyed with many literally falling into the sea or the huge crevices that opened up. The tidal wave was so powerful that it lifted one vessel in the harbor and dropped it on the roofs of the ruined buildings. The causeway that connected Port Royal to the Palisadoes was also swept away. Legend has it that the bell in the church tower which fell into the sea, can still sometimes be heard tolling from beneath the waves.
Although work started on rebuilding Port Royal almost immediately, the town was gutted by fire in 1703, and many residents decided it was time to relocate. The Royal Navy stayed on and Port Royal was their main Caribbean base until 1905. Because of the naval presence, there were also traders but these gradually moved to Kingston as the mainland settlement grew. Port Royal was hit by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 but escaped remarkable unscathed, and there are many buildings and museums to explore. After your explorations you can enjoy a tasty snack and then perhaps visit one of many nearby cays for a swim or snorkel.
Fort Charles is at the western tip of The Palisadoes and is very well preserved with its rows of semi-circular gun ports in the fading red brickwork. The young lieutenant Nelson was stationed here, and a plaque in his memory reads: “You, who tread in his footprints, remember his glory.”
Fort Charles Maritime Museum exhibits displays of man’s relationship to the sea from the times of the Arawak, and traces the development of Jamaican maritime history. There is a scale model of the fort and models of ships of past eras. It is located in the old British naval headquarters and is open from 10 am to 4 pm daily.
The National Museum of Historical Archaeology is located in what used ot be the naval hospital that spent a lot of its time fighting epidemics of yellow fever. The museum displays the history of the Jamaican people and techniques of excavation being used in the study of Port Royal’s history based on marine and land deposits. It is open from 10 am to 5 pm, Monday to Saturday.
Giddy House close to the fort, is a former artillery store, and gets its name because of its strange tilt, the result of having been moved by the 1907 earthquake.
Port Royal Marine Laboratory of the University of the West Indies is based in Port Royal. Founded in 1955, the laboratory began as a small room i the Old Naval Dockyard but later moved to a one-acre site, “Crab Hall’ beside the navy Hospital.
The Port Royal Laboratory has been important in undergraduate teaching of marine biology and marine ecology and in recent years has undertaken courses in aquaculture, fisheries and coastal management. For additional information on Marine Sciences, contact the Centre for Marine Science, University of the West Indies, P.O. Box 32, Kingston, Jamaica, W.I. 927-1660. As you head back along the promontory, you can spot the remains of other fortifications and be on the lookout for wildlife. The whole area is protected and home to a large number of birds, animals and reptiles.