Magnificent examples of 17th- and 18th-century military architecture, these Panamanian forts on the Caribbean coast form part of the defense system built by the Spanish Crown to protect transatlantic trade.
The Fortifications on the Caribbean side of Panamá: Portobelo and San Lorenzo are located along the coast of the Province of Colón.
There are diverse fortification sites around the Bay of Portobelo, denominated San Fernando fortifications: Lower Battery, Upper Battery and Hilltop Stronghold; San Jerónimo Battery Fort; Santiago fortifications: Castle of Santiago de la Gloria, Battery and Hilltop Stronghold; the old Santiago Fortress; ruins of Fort Farnese; the La Trinchera site; the Buenaventura Battery; and the San Cristóbal site.
Forty-three kilometers away, at the mouth the Chagres River stands the San Lorenzo Castle (originally “San Lorenzo el Real del Chagre”) with its Upper Battery as a separate structure.
The component parts of the property represent characteristic examples of military architecture developed by the Spanish Empire in its New World territories largely between the 17th and the 18th centuries.
The first plans for fortifying the entrance to the Bay of Portobelo and the mouth of the Chagres River were prepared in 1586 by Bautista Antonelli. Following his recommendations, the first fortifications in Portobelo were begun in the 1590’s.
As a whole, these structures comprised a defensive line to protect Portobelo’s harbor and the mouth of the Chagres River, which were the Caribbean terminals of the transcontinental route across the Isthmus of Panama.
The defensive system includes fortifications in different styles, some of them skilfully integrated into the natural landscape as part of its military defensive design. They were also adapted to the changing needs of defensive technologies in the course of three centuries in order to protect the capital resources sent from colonial America to Spain after crossing the Isthmus of Panama.
In the earliest constructions, a military style with medieval features prevailed, while in the eighteenth century the structures were rebuilt in the neo-classical style, which can be observed at the forts of Santiago, San Jeronimo and San Fernando, and also at San Lorenzo.