Chagres and Fort San Lorenzo


Chagres (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtʃaɣɾes]), once the chief Atlantic port on the isthmus of Panama, is now an abandoned village at the historical site of Fort San Lorenzo (SpanishFuerte de San Lorenzo). The fort's ruins and the village site are located about 8 miles (13 km) west of Colón, on a promontory overlooking the mouth of the Chagres River.

In 1739 and 1740, British Admiral Edward Vernon attacked the Spanish fortifications at Portobelo and Chagres. With the destruction of Portobelo's fort, Spain abandoned trade there, instead strengthening its fortifications at Chagres,[5] and, upstream, Gatun.[3] With the decline of Portobelo, Chagres surpassed it as the chief Atlantic port of the isthmus.[6]
By the middle of the 18th century, however, the Spanish had largely abandoned both of the old trails over the isthmus, preferring to sail around the tip of South America at Cape Horn. For over a century, Fort San Lorenzo was used as a prison.[3]
The 1848 finding of gold in California stimulated new vitality at the mouth of the Chagres River. Westbound prospectors who preferred to avoid crossing the "Great American Desert" or rounding Cape Horn would follow the old path of the Las Cruces Trail, beginning their transcontinental journey at "Yankee Town"[7] or "Yanqui Chagres"[8]—the wild-west boomtown that sprang up on the bank opposite the original village and fortress.
foto by Jaime Massot