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By 3 de March, 2024April 29th, 2024No Comments

16th century seaports: finding the original sources

If we want to know the history of Portuguese maritime expansion and shipbuilding in the 16th century, without extrapolations and assumptions, there’s nothing like consulting what was registered at the time. We have free access to these primary sources at CEDOPORMAR – 16th Century Maritime Ports Documentation Centre, a specialized extension of the Vila do Conde Municipal Archive.

Installed on the second floor of the Alfândega Régia-Museu da Construção Naval (Royal Customs House-Shipbuilding Museum) building, one of the hubs of the Nautical Arts Centre, CEDOPORMAR (we can read EARLYBYSEA) is much more than its physical space: most of its impressive collection, made up of tens of thousands of documents on the 16th century seaports connected to Vila do Conde, is digitized and can be consulted online from anywhere.

In other words, we are all invited to “leaf through” digital reproductions of written and iconographic documentation stored in national and foreign libraries and archives. Opening pages in time, we discover the history of the Portuguese maritime villages, their encounter with the world and, above all, “Vila do Conde of the 16th century” – from shipbuilding to the shipping routes and consequent overseas trade.

The genesis of CEDOPORMAR is the documentary collection and content processing work carried out by researcher and university professor Amélia Polónia, as part of her doctoral thesis “Vila do Conde – Um Porto Nortenho na Expansão Ultramarina Quinhentista [A Northern Port in the 16th Century Overseas Expansion”.

How can we access these historical documents?

Because records from the 16th century are difficult to read, given the linguistic transformations over the centuries, behind each 16th century document that has been digitized and is available online is an exhaustive job of reading, transcribing and summarizing. In this way, we have access to both the summarized version and the original record.

To consult the digitized collection, we just need to access the GISA application. You can access all the information free of charge via a free or guided search: all the documents are indexed by organic, chronological, thematic, onomastic or geographical criteria, in accordance with international archival description standards.

What does a visit to CEDOPORMAR offer us?

There are several reasons why a visit to CEDOFORMAR’s physical space is an enriching experience.

Firstly, because we have access to documents that are not yet online. The project of this Documentation Center is a “work in progress”, continually enriched by the entry of new records whose processing, for subsequent public consultation, is demanding. This is the case with the collection of the Santa Clara Monastery, an emblematic monument in Vila do Conde, which is still being processed due to its extreme complexity.

Secondly, because here it is possible to consult the diverse documentation with professional help. For example, the more than 300,000 parish registers of Vila do Conde and the neighboring town of Póvoa de Varzim, collected by the researcher and professor Alberto Oliveira: thanks to his tireless work, citizens with a family connection to the region can build their family tree.

Thirdly, because we can see and leaf through facsimile versions of unique works, such as the “Carta Náutica de Jorge de Aguiar [Nautical Chart]” (1492) and the “Livro de Traças de Carpintaria [Book of Carpentry Drawings]” (1616) by Manuel Fernandes, a shipbuilding manual of the time.

Fourthly, because in a building steeped in the old maritime culture – the Alfândega Régia – the encounter with primary sources, the beginning of all history studies, takes place in an environment where everything calls for immersion in time and with the technical support of professionals with a keen pedagogical sense.

For all these reasons, CEDOPORMAR is a “habitat” for researchers, but also a place for the general public to visit. For the new, digitally-savvy generations, “cedo-por-mar/ early-by-sea” is also “cedo-formar/ early-to-form”, with this project raising awareness of the importance of the past in shaping the identity of a people and a region.