After the town of Nombre de Dios was destroyed by Francis Drake in 1597, Portobelo was founded to replace it as the Atlantic terminus of the Camino Real – the route across the isthmus along which the Spanish hauled their plundered treasures. Portobelo’s setting on a deep-water bay was supposed to make it easier to defend from the ravages of pirates, and for 150 years it played host to the famous ferias, grand trading events held when the Spanish treasure fleet came to collect the riches that arrived on mule trains from Panama City. Unsurprisingly, the pirates who scoured the Spanish Main – most famously Henry Morgan – could not resist the wealth concentrated in the royal warehouses here. Eventually the Spanish decided enough was enough: the treasure fleet was rerouted around Cape Horn and Portobelo’s star began to fade.

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