Port Royal was established by the Spanish in 1518.
On June 7, 1692, a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami killed 2,000 people and submerged the city of Port Royal in Jamaica. Once called the “wickedest city on earth,” Port Royal was home to real-life
pirates of the
Caribbean, and the city’s sinking was deemed an act of God. But that did not stop the
pirates, who just moved farther up the coast. Today it is deemed to be one of the best-preserved underwater cites in the world, with only a few items having been removed and placed into various museums across Jamaica. You can scuba dive to the sunken city but need special permission from the
authorities to enter Inner
Edmund Heath, survivor and eyewitness to the devastating 1692 earthquake wrote these words in a letter from the safety of a ship moored in the city’s harbor, overlooking the ruins of his city. Port Royal, once called “the most wicked and sinful city in the world” was famous the world over for its
booze - the blackout-inducing Kill Devil Rum, its pirates, and its sex workers. Needless to say, when the city was nearly destroyed, there were some parties that saw it as a convenient solution to an ugly problem.
The English and their pirate friends were relatively new to the area. Jamaica had been held by the Spanish since Columbus first declared it “the fairest island eyes have beheld” in 1494. Lacking gold or other obvious exploitable wealth, the Spanish held it but did not focus much energy there. It came under English power in 1655, after Cromwell sent English raiders to invade and capture the Spanish stronghold at Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic, then the center of Spanish trade in the Caribbean). Cromwell’s men failed spectacularly at taking Hispaniola and turned to Jamaica as a second choice, better-than-nothing option.
In 1675 the notorious pirate Henry Morgan became the Lieutenant Governor. In fact, Morgan began to crack down on overt piracy as the grand era of privateering he had been part of began to enter its waning phase. He died just four years before the earthquake struck and was buried in the Palisadoes cemetery.
On the morning of June 7, 1692, a massive earthquake estimated at a 7.5 magnitude hit the island. The city, largely built over sand, suffered instantly from liquifaction, with buildings, roads, and citizens sucked into the ground. Geysers erupted from the earth, buildings collapsed, and finally the city was hit by tsunami waves, dragging what had not been destroyed out to sea. In the end, some 33 acres of the city disappeared under water, four of the five forts were destroyed or submerged, and 2000 people were killed. The cemetery where Captain Morgan was buried slipped into the sea, its bodies floating up to mix with the freshly dead.
In 1951, what was left of Port Royal was hit by Hurricane Charlie, destroying more property and leaving only a few of the original buildings standing.
Today most of the remains of the 17th century city lie under up to 40 feet of water. Up until the 1900s visitors reported on the city still visible below the waves and the eerie sensation of floating over the rooftops. Since the 1950s, divers have been exploring and cataloging the submerged city. In 1969, Edwin Link discovered the most famous artifact: a pocket watch dated 1686, stopped at exactly 11:43.
More recently the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust conducted underwater archaeological examinations, ending in 1990. Their explorations have brought to light artifacts of 17th century life rarely seen. Because of the nature of the disaster, which left many buildings intact and more or less undisturbed, it has been compared to Pompeii for its archaeological wonders and was a designated National Heritage Site in 1999.
Special access from the government is required to dive in the restricted Port Royal ruins area, but many of the items recovered over the years can be seen at the Museums of History and Ethnography at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston.
could be taught in schools, as part of an educational
curriculum to raise awareness of just how important the subsea
kingdom is for land dwellers.
lost treasures might we discover as the mysteries of the deep unfold,
armed with new underwater technology and an army of freshly educated
researchers with an interest in the deep.
- MEDITERRANEAN SEA
ATLIT-YAM - ISRAEL
BAIA - ITALY
DWARKA - INDIA
PAVLOPETRI - GREECE
PHANAGORIA - BLACK SEA
PORT ROYAL - JAMAICA
THONIS-HERACLEION AND ALEXANDRIA - EGYPT
YONAGUNI JIMA - JAPAN