Portobelo, Porto Bello pwārˈtō bāˈyō [key], town, central Panama, on the Caribbean Sea. The site, an excellent harbor, was visited by Columbus. The town was founded in 1597. A thriving colonial city, it was connected by a stone highway with Panama city; both ports were the points of transshipment for riches from the Spanish Pacific domains. Believed impregnable—Sir Francis Drake died of fever before he could capture it and was secretly buried in the bay—Portobelo was, nevertheless, sacked by English buccaneers (William Parker in 1601, Sir Henry Morgan in 1688, and Edward Vernon in 1739). With the building of the trans-Panama railroad (1848–55) and finally the digging of the Panama Canal, Portobelo declined.

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