village situated along the Caribbean coast of east-central Panama. The name Portobelo, meaning "beautiful harbour," was given by Christopher Columbus in 1502; the village was founded in 1597. Portobelo grew to become a strongly fortified town at the north end of the old Gold Road. As a point of transshipment and exchange for the colonial merchandise of Spain and South America, Portobelo was famous for its annual fairs, as well as notorious for its high prices, congested quarters, and tropical fevers. Once the busiest city in the New World, it was attacked a number of times by English buccaneers. The abandonment by Spain of the treasure fleet system and fairs in the 18th century, the building of the Panama railroad in the 1850s, and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 brought about its eclipse. Portobelo's Spanish fortification ruins are of great historical interest and were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. Pop. (2000) 7,964.
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