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Jamaica's World Heritage Sites (tentative list) The Underwater City of Port Royal

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    Jamaica currently has no sites on the World Heritage List. The Underwater City of Port Royal was added to Jamaica’s tentative list under the Cultural category in 2009 and has been nominated to be considered by UNESCO for inscription on the Wold Heritage List in 2012 – a decision has not been made.

    Port Royal is one of the premier English archaeological sites of the Americas. Port Royal has been called many names throughout history - “the wickedest city on earth"[1], “the most wicked and sinful city in the world”[2] , “the city that sank”[3] and the “the Sodom of the New World”[4]. Located on the southeast coast of Jamaica, Port Royal was home to British buccaneers and explorers in the 17th century. Because of its strategic location, Port Royal became the base for the British Royal Navy in the Caribbean[4] and also the commercial hub of the Caribbean and the most economically important English port in the Americas[1]. Port Royal by 1692 had an estimated population between 7,000 to 8,000 persons in approximately 2,500 dwellings[5]. It quickly became the largest and most affluent English town in the Americas. Overtime, Port Royal developed a reputation for loose morals and gaudy displays of wealth. It was a buccaneers' paradise, with one in every four building said to be a bar or a brothel. During its heydays, Port Royal covered 51 acres and was laid out with broad unpaved streets, named after popular streets in London, each lined with buildings one to four stories high with brick sidewalks along the front of many of the buildings[5].

    The glory days of Port Royal ended on June 7, 1692 when a devastating earthquake struck the island. Within minutes two thirds of the entire town disappeared underwater[1]killing an estimated 2,000 people[4]. Of the original 51 acres, 20 sank to a depth of 10 feet and 13 slid to a depth of 35 feet[1]. Streets filled with warehouses, ships in the harbour, the cemetery and one by one the forts, disappeared under the rising waves. Now, beneath the ground and the adjacent water of Kingston Harbour lies the only sunken city in the New World, a city that played a pivotal role in Caribbean politics and economics[5]. Many viewed this horrific event as God’s punishment for unlawful actions by a group of sinful people.

    Today the area is a shadow of its former self with a population of less than 2,000 and has little to no commercial or political importance. The sunken, algae-covered remnants of the city are in murky waters in an archaeological preserve closed to divers without a permit. Underwater excavations have turned up artefacts including cannonballs, wine glasses, ornate pipes, pewter plates and ceramic plates dredged from the muck just offshore. The partial skeleton of a child was found in 1998[4]As the only sunken city in the Western Hemisphere, the assemblage of buildings both on land and underwater illustrate a vivid picture of life during the era of colonial expansion in the new world[1].


    Managerial Challenges

    The Underwater City of Port Royal is currently being managed the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT). Some of the challenges in managing and developing the site are as follows:

    • Funding is still required needed for excavation activities, conservation of recovered material, publishing of results, display and interpretation of recovered material and development of the site for present and future generations– this is estimated at £96 million according to Jamaica’s Minister for Science, Technology, Energy and Mining[6]. The challenge to secure funding has been a difficult task. The JNHT hopes that the inscribing of the site to the World Heritage List would give the town symbolic importance and bring international attention hence encouraging both international and local investment in the overall development.
    • There is no current tourism activity in the area. Although there have been a number of plans to develop Port Royal into a major Tourism Centre, none of these plans have gone belong the discussion phase. This is because of two reasons: lack of funding to carry out these ambitious plans and the development plan has the potential to significantly impact, and to some degree destroy parts of the archaeological record in the affected areas. A major challenge of the JNHT is to minimize the archaeological damage as much as possible (maintaining its integrity) and to make sure that there is a knowledgeable archaeologist, well-versed in the history and archaeology of the Port Royal, included in the planning stages of the project[5].
    • Port Royal is located on the Palisadoes peninsula and is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. This is makes it challenging in trying to maintain the integrity of the remains both underwater and on land. The JNHT has had a challenge in taking the active steps to ensure that recovered artefacts are properly documented, restored and preserved to ensure that the history and cultural heritage will be available for future generations to enjoy[1].
    • Also managing illegal activities such as fishing and unauthorized diving within the site protected boundaries has been a challenge. The JNHT continue to work with the local authorities such as the Jamaica Coast Guard but a more strategic plan need to be developed for long-term effectiveness.



    [1]UNESCO (2009). The Underwater City of Port Royal - UNESCO World Heritage Centre. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 4 Nov 2013].

    [2]Black, A. (2013). Sunken Pirate City at Port Royal. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 8 Nov 2013].

    [3] Lanthier, N. (2007). Talk tells story of Jamaican 'underwater city'. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 9 Nov 2013].

    [4]Henderson, B. (2012). Jamaica seeks heritage status for sunken Port Royal. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 8 Nov 2013].

    [5] Hamilton, D. (2006). Port Royal, Jamaica: archaeological past and development potential. R. Grenier, D. Nutley and I. Cochran (dir. publ.), Underwater cultural heritage at risk: managing natural and human impacts. ICOMOS [online], p. 49. Available at [Accessed: 8 Nov 2013].

    [6] Davis, N. 2012. Jamaica's 'wickedest city' banks on heritage. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 8 Nov 2013]


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    Viewing 4 of 4 comments: view all
    First off i think its a really interesting and well written article, i feel like going the right away. But i have some questions. The site seems to be very instable, is there actually anything a visitor, a bagpacker or whoever, could do there? some kind of museum our exhibition? I understand it correctly that the actual site is closed to the public?
    Is there anything going on in the remaining part of the wicked city? How long did it the city stand ?

    but once again i think its a great story, great told!
    Posted 07:04, 12 Nov 2013
    Thank you for your kind comments. There are parts of the city still remaining -- old forts, buildings, and cannons -- crumbling and deteriorating due to lack of funds to restore them. This is not an official tourist site -- you can go there free of charge if you want to but there nothing much to do or see on land and you need special permit to dive (visibility not good at all). Artefacts that have been excavated so far are being displayed in another museum in Kingston. There is a Tourism Development Plan that includes building a cruise pier, museums and restoring the old buildings. They have already started to excavate some of the buildings underwater, see for more details. There is also a National Geography Documentary that was made a few years back: and also one from the History Channel: I hope this helps! edited 14:34, 12 Nov 2013
    Posted 14:33, 12 Nov 2013
    It was very interesting to hear about how Jamaican people trying to create a ground for preserving their heritage. It is pity to know the type of managerial difficulties this site is experiencing that some of the buildings are soon lost forever and maybe not so much efforts needs to be taken now in order to maintain them in a good condition.
    I am still very puzzled by the power of a WHS nomination. That people really think that it has a power to turn things upside down and give a boost to the tourist flows to the site. I will give you some examples of the WHS in Sweden where the nomination was used only as a label, but it did not mean any considerable difference for the touristic development of the site. So it was very interesting to listen to your presentation and learn how this process of tourism planning for a heritage site is proceeding in Jamaica.
    Thank you for an interesting presentation.
    Best regards,
    Posted 21:01, 12 Nov 2013
    Hello Nicole. Your presentation of possible UNESCO sites was interesting and straight to the Point. Your discussion of the Blue and John Crow Mountains sparked an interest for me to go visit this site. I have never Heard of this Place but by simply looking at the Picture it looks like an Amazing Place. The only drawback is the fact that there is no form of sustainable tourism development in the region. Hopefully soon they will be able to develop some type of sustainable tourism at the mountain so I go visit the site.
    Posted 18:39, 21 Nov 2013
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