Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado

Universal Atlas of Fernão Vaz Dourado Map No. 15. Coast of Mexico
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Map No. 15. Coast of Mexico

The main objective of this map is to show readers the relatively unknown west coast of North America. The dearth of toponyms proves the slow Spanish colonisation implemented from Mexican ports on the Pacific coast, located to the south.

Towards the northwest there is a large inscription surrounding the coat of arms of Castile/Aragon, stating: “IN THE MONTH OF JANUARY OF THE YEAR 1545 RUY LOPEZ DE VILLALOBOS DISCOVERED THIS COAST WHILE GOING TO THE MOLUCCAS.” However, neither the explorer’s name nor the date correspond to historical events. In November 1542 a fleet captained by Ruy López de Villalobos set sail from Navidad, on the Mexican coast, heading towards the other end of the Pacific Ocean. He has been credited with attributing the name “Philippines” to the Southeast Asian archipelago but not with exploring the coasts of California.

These coasts were reconnoitred during exactly the same period (1542-1543) by a Portuguese working in the service of the Spanish crown, João Rodrigues Cabrillo, and Bartolomé Ferrelo on the orders of the first viceroy of New Spain, António Hurtado de Mendoza. This exploration extended the spaces depicted in Vaz Dourado’s map as ostensibly having been explored by Villalobos from Baja California to the area north of San Francisco, up to about 44º N. In 1545, indicated as the date of the discovery, the two mariners were already dead. Neither of them returned from their voyages.

In terms of modern-day Western Mexico there is a prominent inscription recalling the campaigns of Cortés, in 1535-1536: “The land that was discovered by Hernán Cortes on the orders of Emperor Charles.”

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

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