A Schooner passing Port Royal on Entry into Kingston Harbour
Kingston Harbour is a vast natural haven in Jamaica. The original commercial centre was Port Royal
, located on the tip of the thin sand spit called Palisadoes that forms the breakwater for the Harbour. It was an important base for privateers and pirates operating against Spanish and French treasure ships during the 17 th
century, and with the resulting debauchery was called the “Sodom of the New World” – it had one tavern for every 10 residents. In 1692, an earthquake destroyed most of the city and submerged much of it beneath the sea, an event seen by many as God’s retribution against a sinful population. As a result, it is known as “the City that Sank”.
After the earthquake, the refugees moved to the mainland side of the Harbour and founded Kingston, although the new town did not replace Port Royal as commercial centre until the latter was further destroyed by fire in 1703. Following the earthquake, the capital was moved to Spanish Town, but frequent attempts were made to rebuild Port Royal, each of them frustrated by hurricanes, fire or flooding. Another earthquake in 1907 finished off the city, and today just 2,000 people live in Port Royal, while across the water Kingston is the capital with a population of 650,000. Port Royal features in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, as well as James Michener’s book, Caribbean.