The Giddy House of Jamaica

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  • 2 months ago

On the grounds of Fort Charles in the small town of Port Royal, Jamaica, stands a lopsided building called “the Giddy House”. Half buried in sand and tilting at nearly 45 degrees, the Giddy House is one of the few remaining relics of the 1907 Kingston earthquake which shook the capital of the island of Jamaica, and destroyed the former “sin city” of Port Royal.

Port Royal, situated at the mouth of the Kingston Harbour, in southeastern Jamaica, was once the pirate capital of the Caribbean, where English and Dutch-sponsored privateers and pirates alike would congregate to gamble, whore and drink, lending Port Royal the title of "the wickedest city on earth".

Port Royal’s wicked days began soon after Jamaica was captured by the British from Spain during the invasion of 1655. To protect the newly captured territory, the then Governor of England invited pirates to Port Royal giving them official “letters of marque” to go after Spanish ships and settlements. The strategy proved to be so successful that Spain was forced to continually defend their property and did not have the means with which to retake the land.

Port Royal meanwhile flourished. Between 1655 and 1692, it grew faster than any town founded by the English in the New World. At its height in 1692, the town had a population of 6,500 and 2,000 buildings densely packed into 51 acres. Its residents ostentatiously displayed their wealth and indulged in all kinds of vices. The town developed a reputation as a den of wickedness and godlessness. 

In 1692, a massive earthquake shook Jamaica and the resulting tsunami swallowed a significant section of Port Royal. What remained standing was brought to ruins fifteen years later by another earthquake. This second earthquake was so devastating that it caused the sand under Port Royal to liquefy and flow out into Kingston Harbour. Not a single building in Port Royal remained upright.

The Giddy House was constructed in 1888 as a Royal Artillery House at Fort Charles, one of the oldest forts in Port Royal, constructed in 1655. Located on the western end of the Palisadoes Strip, Fort Charles was built by the British after Jamaica was taken from the Spaniards. The Fort was initially damaged in the earthquake of 1692, but it was the earthquake of 1907 that caused the most harm. Many of the fort’s cannons and guns sunk into the sand, and some areas of the fort disappeared altogether. The Giddy House tilted at an angle and sunk halfway into the ground.

Port Royal lived out its days as a British naval station and today remains as a small fishing village.


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