Fun and Interesting Things about Panama (III)

(Part 3)

At the end of our previous presentation we mentioned the ruins of Panama “La Vieja” and Portobelo, which leads us to the following question: What happened to these two cities? Well, now we enter into the part of history that is most appealing to the movies industry; pirates and privateers.

Let us start our answer to the above question by pointing out that the catholic kingdom of Spain and the protestant kingdom of England were at “war” between the years 1585 and 1604. This “war” was never formally declared, and was really a series of intermittent conflicts, particularly naval conflicts between Spain and England. One of the most famous events in this “war” was the failed intent of the Spanish Armada to invade England.

You may ask, what does this have to do with the brief history of Panama that we are writing about? Well, it has a great deal to do with it, as we will explain.

Due to the Spanish-Anglo “war” there were many naval confrontations between the two fleets; consequently, the English naval fleet was so widely spread out throw-out the world that the English monarchy started contracting the services of pirates in the Caribbean to attack the Spanish colonies in the Americas.. These pirates were called privateers and they raided Spanish ships and cities with the veiled permission of England.

Admiral Sir Francis Drake, one of histories most famous privateers, raided and pillaged coastal Spanish towns. In one of his excursions Drake saw from his ship a group of mules travelling from Panama “La Vieja” to “Nombre de Dios”, a small settlement on the Atlantic coast of Panama founded in 1519 (78 years before Portobelo), Drake raided the mule caravan and was surprised to find that they carried such a large quantity of gold and silver.

“Nombre de Dios” was the first main port on the American continent for the Spanish fleet. It was attacked and by Sir Francis Drake in 1572 and again, 24 years later in 1596 when he also burned the city to the ground. Consequently, the Spanish fleet changed its home port to the nearby and better fortified Portobelo.

As the story goes, after several attempts to capture Portobelo, Sir Francis Drake is said to have died from fever and dysentery in Portobelo bay in 1596. Pirate/Privateer Sir Henry Morgan destroyed Portobelo 72 years after the death of Sir Francis Drake. This story is left for our next presentation.

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