Fortifications of Panama

Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo

Basic Information

As stated by the UNESCO webpage, these fortifications were built for defensive reasons.  The Spanish royalty ordered them to be built to protect transatlantic trade.  They are 17th and 18th century military examples of architecture.  The system of fortifications have different styles and consists of San Fernando, San Jeronimo, Santiago, Stronghold and several other sites.  They have been adapted to changing needs over three centuries.   These sites were part of a larger system to protect trade between the Americas and Spain.  Parts of this defensive system is built into the natural landscape.  Their adaptions influenced the New World in the modern era.  They show the strategies, technology, and organization of the area.

  • The fortifications are on the coast of the Province of Colón.
  • UNESCO has deemed the Fortifications to be important because the original boundaries portray the evolution of the military architecture of the Spanish Colonial Empire.
  • Portobelo was the main port in the Caribbean for trade with the Americas and San Lorenzo was one of the most visited ports in the 17th and 18th centuries that was built for protection for the surrounding  area.
World Heritage Site
  • As stated by UNESCO, to be on the World Heritage list it must have outstanding universal value and meet selection criteria.

The Fortifications of Panama fit Criterion i and iv.  Criterion i- the sites are a “masterpiece of human creative genius”. Portobelo is an open fortified town that has been rebuilt multiple times.  San Lorenzo went through many renovations.  Criterion iv- The sites are of late 16th, 17th and 18th century and demonstrate the adaptations of Spanish military architecture to the climate and landscape.  The sites are also excellent representations of the structural and technological development of the military buildings.

  • Portobelo is one of the few remaining neo-classical style architecture left.
Fortifications of Portobelo- San Lorenzo, Panama

Fortifications of Portobelo- San Lorenzo, Panama Website Source- Image Source-

Current endangerment of the Fortifications

UNESCO news has stated that the site is in danger.  The site is deteriorating rapidly and that could affect its Outstanding Universal Value.  Many factors are currently putting the site in danger, such as the environment, lack of the upkeep of the sites, and urban developments in the area.  UNESCO has noted the loss of architectural finishes, decorations, and some parts of some of the walls through decay.

-Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (Panama)

  • The San Lorenzo fort is affected by the Chagres river that runs along it.  It is eroding away the structure over time.  Also, damage is being done by the increasing humidity of the area due to climate change.
  • The lack of maintenance at the site has left it more susceptible to environmental factors.
  • The World Monument’s Fund has aided the Fort of San Jeronimo of the Portobelo defense system.  The site is in danger from rising water levels from the nearby bay.  Also, the San Lorenzo site got an increase in tourism due to a shortcut being created.  Which if uncontrolled, an increase in tourism  can endanger the structural integrity.
  • The World Heritage Committee stated that the Portobelo-San Lorenzo site needs to have a risk assessment of the structure and needs to reinforce its walls, batteries, and platforms.
  • The Degenerate Press has stated that the urban development spread is difficult to spot now, but the danger is of what is to come from the developments of Panama.
  • The George Wright Society has stated that because humans of ruined part of the rainforest, there is soil erosion along the river which affects the current and the seabed.

Archaeologist’s Studies

UNESCO has stated that some actions have been put into place to protect the fortifications. In order to slow down the deterioration of the site, laws have been placed into action and short and long term plans are being created.  Buffer zones to protect the sites from urban growth have been created.  The National Environment Authority has made a Management plan for San Lorenzo that has conservation ideas.  Adriana Romo has said that the government of Panama has listed it as a place for ecotourism.

  • Archaeologists can study this site to learn about how dramatically climate change is affecting the world.  They can study to learn preservation techniques to slow down the deterioration that can be used for this site and other sites facing similar factors.
  • This site has a body of water and other environmental factors affecting the integrity of the site. Archaeologists cannot directly stop the issues, but they can study the area to learn techniques to try to slow down the process.
  • Texas State University Archaeologists are using digital scanning to study the site in order to try to learn how to protect it from environmental factors.

Studying Climate Change

The Archaeological Institute of America have stated that archaeologists are studying climate change and its affects on sites.  They can’t directly stop climate change but they can work towards preserving sites and learning how to  deal with the change.  Climate change causes sea levels to rise, which can lead to erosion and environmental changes that endanger sites around the world.  In order to combat that, archaeologists are documenting sites earlier.  They have found that climate change is causing artifacts and sites to deteriorate and degrade a lot faster.  They dictate that time is important because as climate changes more, sea levels continue to rise and extinguish vital information and artifacts.   At one site they set up rain tents to protect artifacts. Archaeologists are seeing that climate change is becoming more important to focus on, while they can’t directly control climate change they must learn ways to slow its effects down which can be studied by looking at heritage sites.


Weaver, Peter L., and Garald P. Bauer. Situated on a promontory above the Chagres River, Fort San Lorenzo is among the most attractive of the many hiking, sightseeing, and bird watching areas in the San Lorenzo Protected Area. In addition to the historic ruins, several bird species may be seen on any day—among them terns, parakeets, flycatchers, elaenia, martins, swallows, and robins. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Forest Services of the United States Department of Agriculture, 3 Nov. 2012. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Fortification of San Lorenzo, Panama -Weaver, Peter L. and Garald P. Bauer

As shown in the News, some areas are studying the relationship between tourism and archaeology.   Greece’s ancient city of Epidaurus is reviving the artifacts underwater in order to promote tourism without harming the antiquities in order to revive the surrounding economy.  Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities is going to allow special celebrations to occur at specific archaeological sites.  Many are worried of the endangerment that this will put the sites in, but authorities are laying down many guidelines to try to control the damage while making a profit.

 Solving Contemporary Global Issues

  • People understand that an increase in tourism can lead to harm being done to the site.  But sometimes the need for money outweighs the artifacts.  If the tourism is controlled, then it will cause minimal damage to the site.  Eco-tourism can improve the economy while preserving the site.
  • At the site, conservationists and archaeologists have to learn to work together to help protect the cultural heritage.  Their measures will create examples for other sites and will improve the protection of sites such as this one.
  • The World Heritage Committee deemed that this site needs to have a plan developed for its conservation efforts.  If they learn how to properly conserve this site with a plan, then that plan can be enacted towards other sites that are facing similar endangerment.  If they learn how to properly reinforce the walls, then other sites on similar rivers can have those efforts put in place too.
  • Archaeologists are studying the past in order to learn how to improve the environment and climate change that the modern world is facing.  They can determine what actions from past civilizations has increased climate change and make changes in the present to slow down those processes that are currently endangering sites.  They can study the past to make the world more sustainable, which would help preserve this site and other sites more.
  • Also, the outcomes of putting changes into place can be used as examples of what to do or what not to do, as in the case of the decline of the Mayan civilization example in Sabloff’s book Archaeology Matters (Sabloff 2008: 40) . Lessons can be learned from learning from other people’s mistakes. Similarly, this can be done for the conservation techniques that they use at this site because other sites can use or learn from what mistakes they make or what they accomplish.



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Google Maps

2016 Fort San Lorenzo Fuerte de San Lorenzo.  Electronic document,,-80.0787171,11z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x8fab73fcfae49755:0x9081d9bdba5ed326!8m2!3d9.3227804!4d-80.0017118, accessed November 24, 2016.

Google Maps

2016 Portobelo, Panama.  Electronic document,,+Panama/@9.5120014,-79.8481238,11z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x8fab3b5f60fd7cf3:0xe05bd1c48eeee828!8m2!3d9.5488889!4d-79.6530174, accessed November 24, 2016.

Grigory Kubatyan

2013 Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo, Panama.  Electronic document,, accessed November 26, 2016.

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2006 The Challenges of Creating an Integrated Approach—Nature, Culture, People—for the Conservation of the Fortifications of the Caribbean Coast of Panama. Electronic document,, accessed November 20, 2016.

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Texas State University

2016 LOST SHIPS OF HENRY MORGAN PROJECT-River Systems Institute and CAS Research Faculty/Chief Underwater Archaeologist Fritz Hanselmann Co-Directs the Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project.  Electronic document,, accessed November 21, 2016.

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2012 Historic forts on Panama’s coastline placed on List of World Heritage in Danger.  Electronic document,, accessed November 20, 2016.


2016 Fortification on the Caribeban Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo.  Electronic document,, accessed November 20, 2016.


2012 Panamanian fortifications inscribed on List of World Heritage in Danger.  Electronic document,, accessed November 27, 2016.

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Weaver, Peter L., Garald P. Bauer

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5 thoughts on Fortifications of Panama

  1. This is a good start! Don’t forget to add photos, maps, and/or videos to illustrate your points! Check out the example archaeological site page to see how we would like you to do the citations (we will go over this in class on December 1st as well).

  2. When was this site put on the World Heritage List? And what do you mean by “they have been adapted to changing needs over three centuries.”? In what ways? Do the adaptive changes affect the authenticity and originality of the overall site or are they just minor changes?

    1. It was placed on the site in 2012, I forgot to mention that. Thank you. And it has adapted to the current needs of what the they needed to defend their transatlantic trade. I do not know what exact changes they made I just know that over time they have made adaptions to the situations.

  3. Really love your site! One suggestion might be to change “Unesco” to UNESCO since it is an anagram for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

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