Once known as the wickedest city in the world when it was the playground of British buccaneers and explorers in the 17th century, little now remains of Port Royal.
However, a campaign supported by the Jamaican government was launched this week to secure UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage status for the sunken city to put it firmly back on the map.
Surveys by a team of experts are under way to mark the land and sea boundaries of what is regarded as one of the most important archeological sites in British history as part of the bid to UNESCO.
A seven-mile spit of golden sand arcs around Kingston bay protecting the capital. At the far end lies the small fishing village of Port Royal (of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame), which was once a bustling city and key British outpost in the 1600s.
The port, which boasted a population of 7,000 and was comparable to Boston during the same period, was a playground for buccaneers like Henry Morgan, who docked in search of rum, women and boat repairs.
England seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655 under the orders of Oliver Cromwell with the aim of establishing a trading base in the Spanish New World.
Merchants and pirates flocked to the new settlement and Port Royal soon became synonymous for excess. There was one tavern for every 10 residents and boasted a thriving prostitution trade.
The city became known as “the Sodom of the New World”, with contemporary writer Charles Leslie noting in his history of Jamaica of the buccaneers: “Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that… some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked.”
However, on June 7, 1692, an earthquake and tsunami decimated the coastline, submerging two-thirds of the city and killing an estimated 2,000 people.
The port remained a key strategic British naval base, but the debauchery was washed away with the tsunami. Fort Charles, where Lord Nelson was once stationed, sank three and a half feet during the earthquake but remains standing to this day.
Despite the village being littered with remnants of British military installations, many of the historic colonial buildings are dilapidated.
The algae-covered remnants of the city are under water in an archaeological preserve closed to divers without a permit.
But in recent decades, underwater excavations have turned up artifacts 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.
At a press conference on Tuesday, experts said it is among the top British archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere and should be protected for future generations.
“There is outstanding potential here. Submerged towns like this just do not exist anywhere else in the Americas,” said Robert Grenier, a Canadian underwater archaeologist who has worked closely with UNESCO.
Donny Hamilton, Texas A&M University nautical archaeologist, said the consulting team has completed the fieldwork for the world heritage assessment and is working on a management plan.
Port Royal could become a sustainable attraction for tourists but first “there’s got to be something above the ground that people are going to want to come and see,” Mr Hamilton said.
Jamaican officials and businessmen have announced various strategies to renovate the ramshackle town over the years, including plans for modern cruise liners and a Disney-style theme park featuring actors dressed as pirates.
Some area businessmen have grown exasperated with the slow pace of development.
Attribution: UK Telegraph