Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado

Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado Map No. 4. Africa from the Cape of Good Hope up to the equinoctial line
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Map No. 4. Africa from the Cape of Good Hope up to the equinoctial line

With the Equator on the top, this map depicts southern Africa, from São Tomé to the Cape of Good Hope and from there to the coast of Somalia, including the island of Madagascar and a large part of the western Indian Ocean.

The interior of the almost empty continent contains the notion of a central lake from which various rivers emerge, which run towards each one of the oceans, although the graphic scale inscribed over it makes it just a hypothesis. This is an image derived from the maps by Bartolomeu Velho (1561) and Gastaldi (1564), which had already been disseminated amongst erudite sections of society from 1570 onwards by means of Ortelius’ Theatrum and would be circulated even more widely with the 1591 Lopes/Pigafetta printed map of Africa.

Indicating the spiritual possession of all overseas territories by the Military Order of Christ, the Portuguese presence in the southern regions of Africa is represented by flags bearing the cross of Christ, such as the one placed at 26º S, on the coast of the Namibian desert, the “lowlands”, as well as by shields with the Portuguese coat of arms, placed north of “Manicongo”, in “Mozambique” and in “Sofala/R. de Cvama”. The link between Portuguese colonisation and the basins of the great Congo and Zambezi rivers, as well as Portuguese control over the stopovers on maritime routes between the Atlantic and Indian oceans, have been clearly identified here.

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

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