Arts & Entertainment

Panama highlights cultural, tourist potential of Caribbean fortifications

Panama City, Feb 21 (EFE).- Amid the verdant tropical landscape of Panama’s Caribbean coast, a historic treasure trove awaits. The Fortifications of the Caribbean Coast of Panama, a World Heritage Site since 1980, stands as a testament to the country’s rich architectural prowess of the 17th and 18th centuries. Yet, despite their grandeur and cultural significance, these majestic forts have been on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2012, prompting Panama’s Culture Ministry to take swift action in restoring and preserving them.

The restoration of the San Jerónimo and San Lorenzo forts, in addition to the construction of a visitor center, are some of the projects under development to shore up ‘the great cultural and tourist potential’ of the Fortifications of the Caribbean Coast of Panama,” Nilda Quijano, the executive director and one of the founders of the Patronato Portobelo and San Lorenzo, told EFE.

The fortifications are undergoing both emergency interventions recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and projects aimed at their sustainability, explained Quijano.

These initiatives, made possible through funds from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) seek to achieve the desired state of conservation of these magnificent prototypes of military architecture, while also highlighting their immense cultural and tourism potential.

Quijano said she believed that the Panamanian authorities have finally understood the “importance of the recovery” of these archaeological sites and their “great potential from a cultural and tourist point of view.”

The Fortifications of the Caribbean Coast are part of the Colonial Transisthmian Route of Panama, a proposed UNESCO World Heritage List entry that includes the Archaeological Site of Panama Viejo and the Historic District of Panama (World Heritage since 1997), as well as the colonial roads that unite them: the Camino de Cruces and the Camino Real.

The Panamanian government’s commitment to preserving these cultural gems is commendable, says Quijano – whose Patronato is involved in the project – as it highlights the country’s role in the history of the world from its genesis.


“The largest project that we are currently carrying out with the Ministry of Culture is the first phase of the restoration of the castle of San Lorenzo Real de Chagres, whose investment is close to $5 million,” reveals Quijano.

This project in San Lorenzo, one of the oldest Spanish fortresses in the Americas and located on a cliff, has been under development since 2020 in three phases. It involves conservation work on part of the fortress walls, emergency works aimed at consolidating floors and the north bastion, and the setting up of a museum in three of the vaults of the fortress.

The restoration also includes special cleaning to recover the walls’ original color and the installation of wooden beams with screws for support.

“Maintenance and consolidation work” is being carried out at the San Jerónimo and Santiago forts, and this year some “bracing” work, the placement of wooden beams for support, is scheduled for the San Fernando fort, the Patronato director said.

The San Jerónimo conservation project includes “consolidation of the high battery walls, the walls of the redoubt, restoration of the Polvorín and the redoubt vault, and the construction of breakwaters to protect against the ravages of the sea,” among others.

Quijano added that the restoration of the Portobelo Customs House “is almost complete,” while the Ministry of Culture already has “all the plans so that the restorations of San Jerónimo, San Fernando, and the first updating studies in Santiago can be carried out,” projects that must be submitted to bidding.

In addition to the restoration, a visitor center is being built about eight kilometers (five miles) from the entrance of the San Lorenzo fort, a project that should be ready by the beginning of 2024, Quijano said.

“The combination of cultural and natural heritage offered by both San Lorenzo and Portobelo is of great value for sustainable tourism development,” said Quijano, highlighting the critical role of these forts in Panama’s rich cultural heritage and the potential for responsible and sustainable tourism. EFE


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