It’s June 1692, and you’re a resident of Port Royal, a thriving settlement in the harbor of modern-day Kingston. As you gaze at the cerulean-blue harbor, your eyes linger on the silhouettes of several privateer ships. The English crown has given these ships free reign to prey upon enemy Spanish galleons loaded with gold and silver, and they’ve taken to the task with relish. In Port Royal, the privateers’ wealth and debauchery is visible everywhere. Drunken sailors stumble about, pockets bursting with pieces of eight, vessels of overflowing red wine spilling down the cobblestone. Meanwhile, ladies of the night slink from behind darkened doorways, beckoning you towards illicit pleasures.
Yet amid the usual debauchery, something feels amiss. The earth you stand upon suddenly feels unstable, vibrating with increasingly angry amplifications. Earthquake! Torrents of seawater froth with whitecaps. Shrieks of terror emanate from panicked residents. Without warning, a huge chunk of Port Royal begins to slip into the sea, swallowing a mass swarming humanity and buildings like an angry sea monster.
More than 300 years later and the ground beneath Port Royal is again calm. But much like the aftermath of that fateful disaster in 1692, it’s clear that the epicenter of Jamaica’s wealth and influence has shifted elsewhere. The fearsome buccaneers like Henry Morgan are no more. Instead, what’s been left behind is a sleepy fishing village just a few miles from Kingston proper, littered with the remains of crumbling pirate forts and some of the best seafood anywhere in the Caribbean. If you’re ready to investigate the real history of pirates in the Caribbean, click below for more.
Fort Charles + Giddy House
At one time Port Royal was home to several military installations. These forts not only guarded Kingston’s harbor from enemy attacks, they also provided safe haven for pirates preying on Spanish ships in the Caribbean. Following the 1692 earthquake, at least three of Port Royal’s forts simply disappeared into the sea.
Today, Fort Charles is Port Royal’s only remaining military fort and among the best preserved in the Caribbean. First built in 1655, the base has played host to some Britain’s most famous naval leaders, including Horatio Nelson. It’s also coincidentally the name of the fort in Pirates of the Caribbean. Coincidence? Visitors to the site can arrange tours of the grounds including some fearsome cannons and a small but well-organized museum complete with historic Port Royal artifacts. Better visit quick – at the time of our visit, authorities mentioned plans to turn the site into a legit tourist complex complete with peg-legs, parrots and eyepatches. Shiver me timbers?
Also worth an amusing five minutes of your time is the Giddy House (pictured above). Built in the 1880’s as an ammunition storehouse, the Giddy House was the victim of yet another earthquake in 1907, which left the structure intact but slanted at a rather odd angle. The slanted floors make for a fun-house style amusement and leaves many visitors “giddy” with laughter, hence its odd name.
Just outside the gates of Fort Charles lies Gloria’s, yet another highly recommended Port Royal destination. After you’ve worked up an appetite learning about pirates, make a stop at this rustic seafood shop complete with al fresco seating and views of Kingston harbor. A plate of curried parrotfish with okra (right), a glass of Ting soda, and the sound of waves crashing along the shore makes for the perfect Jamaican lunch.
As you finish your meal, spend an hour or two exploring the neighborhood’s quiet and rustic charm, including the peeling facades of pastel colored buildings and clumps of tiny wooden fishing boats nestled on the shore. Port Royal today may no longer flow with stolen Spanish treasure, but its unassuming charms remain very much intact, waiting to be discovered.
Gadling was recently invited by the Spanish Court Hotel to visit Kingston, Jamaica’s unexplored capital of music, food and culture. We’ve been bringing you our observations on all this up-and-coming city has to offer. Though the trip was paid, all opinions remain our own. You can read our previous “Big up Kingston” posts HERE.