Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado

Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado Map No. 3. West coast of Africa up to São Tomé
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Map No. 3. West coast of Africa up to São Tomé

The line of the Equator serves as the basis of this map, which depicts the coasts of western Africa from Gibraltar up to the island of São Tomé, in the Gulf of Guinea, including the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. The Western Ocean (“Oceanvs Ocidentalis”) bathes all of these coasts and islands.

The almost empty interior only contains a hypothetical fluvial network, in which a large river stands out, probably the Senegal; dense and detailed Portuguese geographic toponyms can be found along the coasts: Cabo de São João, Cabo do Galo, Rio dos Camarões.

The flags only highlight two powers: Portugal as opposed to the Arab territories, symbolised by the Islamic crescent. One of the Muslim flags is prominently implanted in Safi, an erstwhile Portuguese stronghold in Morocco and the seat of a bishopric, which was abandoned in 1541. The flags of the Order of Christ are shown in Arzila and Ceuta, controlling the entry/exit to the Mediterranean, on the island of São Tomé and in the delta of the Rio dos Camarões (the Wouri River, near the modern day city of Douala), inside the Gulf of Guinea, slave trading emporiums. Additional signs of possession include two shields with the Portuguese coat of arms in the interior region of the Rios da Guiné (Guinea) and inside the Gulf of Guinea, replete with Portuguese toponyms.

This latter aspect was repeatedly cited while presenting this atlas folio as historical documental proof of Portugal’s rights in West Africa, particularly in the Guinea region, at the time when diplomatic and military agreements were being signed with France and England in the mid-nineteenth century.

João Carlos Garcia
Faculdade de Letras, Universidade do Porto
(Fragment of the Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado commentary volume)

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