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Port Royal

This article is about the former capital city of Jamaica. For the French convent, see Port-Royal. For information on the South Carolina town see: Port Royal, South Carolina. For the Canadian community and early French colony see: Port Royal, Nova Scotia

Port Royal was the capital city of Jamaica until an earthquake on June 7, 1692 largely destroyed it, causing two thirds of the city to sink into the Caribbean Sea. Port Royal's role was taken over by the city of Kingston.

Situated at the western end of the Palisadoes sandspit that protects Kingston Harbour, Port Royal had gained a reputation in the 17th century as both the "richest and wickedest city in the world". It was notorious for its gaudy displays of wealth and loose morals, and was a popular place for pirates to bring and spend their treasure. During the 17th century the British actively encouraged and even paid Buccaneers based at Port Royal to attack Spanish and French shipping.

On June 7, 1692, a devastating earthquake hit the city causing the sandspit on which it was built to liquefy and flow out into Kingston Harbour . The effects of tsunamis caused by the earthquake further eroded the sandspit, and soon the main part of the city lay permanently underwater, though intact enough that archaeologists have managed to uncover some well-preserved sites. The earthquake and tsunami killed between 1000 and 3000 people combined, over half the city's population.

Some attempts were made to rebuild the city, starting with the one third of the city that was not submerged, but these met with mixed success and numerous disasters. An initial attempt at rebuilding was again destroyed in 1704, this time by fire. Subsequent rebuilding was hampered by several hurricanes in the first half of the 18th century, and soon Kingston eclipsed Port Royal in importance.

A final devastating earthquake on January 14, 1907 again liquefied the sandspit, destroying nearly all of the rebuilt city and submerging additional portions. Today the area is a shadow of its former self with a population of less than 2000 and has little to no commercial or political importance. The area is frequented by tourists but is in a state of disrepair. The Jamaican government has recently resolved to further develop the area for its historic and tourism value.

A popular brand of tobacco is also named after Port Royal.

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04