1.         Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (Panama) (C 135)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1980

Criteria  (i)(iv)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/135/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1980-1993)
Total amount approved: USD 76,800
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/135/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions

November 2001: joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission; March 2010: joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Deterioration and destruction of the fabric of the property by environmental factors, lack of a maintenance programme, as well as polluted water;

b) Erosion;

c) Absence of management policies included in management plans;

d) Uncontrolled urban development;

e) Tourism pressures (in particular at Portobelo);

f) Torrential rains.

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/135/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2011

A report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party on 11 February 2011. The report provides information on the measures implemented to address the conditions at the property. A report sent by the State Party on 14 December 2010, included information on the damages caused by the torrential rains which occurred during the same month. It was reported that the majority of the damages occurred in Portobelo’s Fort Santiago, where landslides affected already damaged structures, destroyed 30 meters of wall, structures and drains collapsed and a significant portion of the central plaza of the fortification was covered by 1 300 cubic metres of mud and trees. Other areas of Portobelo also suffered destruction due to the landslides. The heavy rains and resulting landslide also demonstrated that previously undertaken conservation works were inadequate and did not contribute significantly to the property’s conservation

a) Emergency conservation measures

The report indicates that conservation actions have been implemented, and interventions have been carried out on minor structures at risk of collapse by a field conservation team based at Portobelo. At Fort Santiago, the south sentry box and the vaulted entryway have been reinforced and the north sentry box is still being conserved. In Fort San Gerónimo, some interventions have been undertaken at the south sentry box. In the case of San Lorenzo the only maintenance activity conducted has been the removal of vegetation.

Structural support elements have been designed for areas where major structural problems were identified due to diverse factors, and which have been identified as at risk of collapse in the Emergency Plan. Actual intervention in these areas is pending the finalization of the relevant design and will be undertaken by a conservation contractor. Architectural measurements and drawings are also being developed for the fortifications at San Fernando and San Lorenzo.

As aforementioned, in Fort Santiago several sections of the northern end of the fort collapsed and the area was littered with debris, mud and rocks at the central plaza as a result of torrential rains. In response, a task force has been created to clear the area, evaluate the extent of damages and propose further mitigation measures for future landslides as well as the required conservation measures. No additional information has been submitted on when and how these conservation measures are expected to be implemented.

b) Management Plan

No Management Plan has been submitted by the State Party. The terms of reference for its development are currently being formulated and the process is scheduled to begin in June 2011. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies would wish to focus the World Heritage Committee’s attention on the fact that the property’s Management Plan has been pending since the 2001 reactive monitoring mission recommended its drafting.


c) Boundaries and buffer zones for the inscribed components

The State Party indicates that the de-limitation process is ongoing at San Lorenzo, and a proposal has been developed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance to transfer the management of this component of the property to the National Institute of Culture (INAC). It was not indicated when this action will be completed. Currently land use regulations are established by the Management Plan for San Lorenzo’s natural protected area, however they are expected to be enhanced with the development of the built heritage Management Plan for the property. General maps of the property have been submitted and the geo-referencing of the protected area will be undertaken. No specific timeframe for the finalization of this activity has been included.

As for Portobelo, the report indicates that prior initiatives to define the boundaries of each fortified structure as part of the National Programme for Land Administration were started with cadastral registration in 2001; however the work was never completed. Portobelo’s Historic District has legally approved boundaries, and zoning regulations exist for the National Park of Portobelo, which was established in 1976 and includes the inscribed fortifications. However, no additional efforts have been carried out to define specific boundaries and buffer zones for the inscribed components, in spite of it being considered in the 2011 work plan of the Patronato Portobelo y San Lorenzo (the entity in charge of the management of the property).


d) Conservation policy for the property

The property has some level of protection through the Executive Decree no. 43 of 1999 for the National Park of Portobelo, an area under the administration of the National Environment Authority. Other planning tools include the Sustainable Development Strategy for the Province of Colon which was drafted in 2007. The report indicates that a proposal has been drafted for the creation of a National Commission on World Heritage however no further details on its creation and implementation have been received. 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies want to underscore the inadequate efforts made to address the poor state of conservation of the property; despite previous recommendations made by the World Heritage Committee over ten years. Furthermore, this vulnerability has increased dramatically as a result of the damage caused to the property by the December 2010 landslide. Although some actions have been implemented to address the recent emergency, no complete assessment of damages has yet been undertaken. Critical conservation measures still need to be implemented, such as a sustained course of action to address the conservation of the built fabric, urban expansion and encroachment and reforestation. 

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the prevailing conditions will take significant time and resources to be reversed, and that the property currently faces significant ascertained threats as indicated in Paragraph 179 of the Operational Guidelines. The World Heritage Committee might wish to inscribe this property on the List of World Heritage in Danger in order to allow for appropriate measures to be undertaken immediately addressing the situation.

Decision Adopted: 35 COM 7B.129

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-11/35.COM/7B,

2. Recalling Decision 34 COM 7B.112, adopted at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010),

3. Notes the efforts undertaken by the State Party to address the state of conservation of the property;

4. Expresses its deep concern regarding the state of conservation of the property, in particular the significant and accelerated degradation of the historic fabric which directly impacts on its Outstanding Universal Value;

5. Also notes the progress made by the State Party to implement previous Committee decisions;

6. Takes note of commitments of the State Party regarding:

a) The Emergency plan, a preventative conservation strategy and maintenance measures at San Lorenzo and Portobelo approved and implemented,

b) National laws and policies for the conservation of built heritage at San Lorenzo and Portobelo defined and in place,

c) Long-term consolidation and conservation through annual plans for the components of the inscribed property ensured,

d) The Operational and participatory management system, including its related public use plan, approved and implemented,

e) The Management plan fully integrated within territorial and urban development plans,

f) Encroachments and urban pressure adequately controlled,

g) The boundaries and buffer zone of all component parts of the World Heritage property precisely clarified,

h) Budgets for the preparation, implementation and follow-up of the management structures and conservation measures secured;

7. Requests the State Party to implement the following measures within the defined timeframe:

a) To be carried out immediately (September 2011-March 2012)

i) Emergency plan for all the components of the property in coherence with the recommendations of the reactive monitoring mission and defined timeframe and phasing for their implementation finalized,

ii) Operational management arrangements and budgets for its implementation ensured,

iii) Budgets for the implementation of the emergency plan (first stage) secured,

iv) Encroachments and urban pressure adequately controlled and reforestation undertaken,

v) Technical Office in Portobelo to secure the implementation of the conservation measures and management arrangements set up and functioning:

b) To be carried out within one year (until September 2012)

First phase of the Emergency Plan implemented:


i) Boundaries and buffer zones for each of the component parts of the property defined,

ii) Regulatory measures for the established buffer zones for controlling development and addressing existing threats finalized and approved,

iii) Monitoring indicators as a tool to assess the state of conservation of the fortified built heritage put in place;

Management and Planning

i) Development of a management plan begun,

ii) Awareness raising activities within the local communities to identify opportunities for eco and cultural tourism to contribute to the improvement of living conditions of the surrounding communities undertaken in full coherence with the conservation measures for the property.

c) To be carried out within two years (until September 2013):

Second phase of the Emergency Plan implemented


i) National laws and policies for the conservation of built heritage at San Lorenzo and Portobelo developed,

Management and planning

i) Management plan for the property, including scheduled and costed provisions for conservation, preventative conservation and maintenance of built heritage, public use, and risk management finalized, approved and adopted,

ii) Management, territorial and urban development plans integrated,

iii) Annual conservation plans for each of the components of the inscribed property developed and in place;

d) To be carried out within two-three years (until September 2014):

i) Implementation of the Emergency Plan completed,

ii) Operational management arrangements and budgets for the continued implementation of the approved management plan secured;

8. Reiterates its request to the State Party to finalize, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies, a draft statement of Outstanding Universal Value, which should be submitted within the framework of the Latin America and the Caribbean Periodic Reporting exercise;

9. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2012, a report on the state of conservation of the property and on the steps taken to implement the recommendations set out above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session in 2012, with a view to considering, in the case of confirmation of ascertained or potential danger to the Outstanding Universal Value, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.