Beautifully engraved original antique map showing the bay of Portobelo, in Panama. The map shows various places in the city, including the town's lagoon, roads, and castle, as well as soundings.
The map was published twice, first in the 1763 Gazzettier Americano and then in the 1777 Atlante dell' America. The latter example is identified by very wide margins. This is the first edition.
Today, Portobelo is a small town with just the ruins of the fort to remind visitors of a time when it was a busy and hotly contested, port. The site that would become Portobelo was visited by several early conquistadores, including Christopher Columbus, but it was not settled until the end of the sixteenth century.
In 1586, the engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli began to fortify the natural harbor, in order to make it a protected outpost of the Spanish empire. He suggested the abandonment of the nearby settlement of Nombre del Dios in favor of the more easily-defensible Portobelo. This process was accelerated when Francis Drake attacked Nombre de Dios in 1596, causing the settlers to flee. This was actually Drake’s second sacking of Nombre de Dios, the first had been in 1573. A fire, also in 1596, convinced the merchants and their families to develop Portobelo instead.
The city of San Felipe de Portobelo was officially founded in 1597. Although defensible, Portobelo proved a tempting target for privateers, pirates, and navies in opposition to Spain. In 1602, Captain William Parker, a pirate, attacked, followed by Henry Morgan in 1671, who caused significant damage. Portobelo was again harassed, and again by English sailors of dubious reputation, in 1679, when a group including Bartholomew Sharp and the pirate-authors William Dampier and Lionel Wafer came to the harbor. The focus on Portobelo was justified, as the town was the staging place for Spanish silver to be brought from Panama to Havana. Finally, and most famously, Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon bombarded the town in 1739.