In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Iberian Port Cities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources and Reference Works
  • Political Economies: Monopolies and Metropoles
  • Non-metropole Port Cities
  • Atlantic Transport
  • Urban Planning, Housing, and Public Buildings
  • Interport Trading
  • Demography, Ethnicity, and Gender
  • Carto-bibliography and Port Fortifications
  • Merchants and Financial Services Employees
  • Fishing and Shipbuilding
  • Forelands and Hinterlands

Atlantic History Iberian Port Cities
Patrick O'Flanagan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0231


This critical review covers most of the leading ports of Iberia. It considers literature referring to the processes that contributed to many aspects of human-built and physical Iberian port architecture. From the early 16th century to 1778, some Iberian ports were subjected to very specific political economies applied with varying amounts of force over a lengthy period. These policies were translated into monopolies facilitating the emergence of a series of privileged ports designated as metropoles and a descending chain of tiers of ports barred from direct trading connections with overseas colonial hubs. Iberian metropoles at the time were permitted to trade only with a series of colonial metropoles, such as Havana, Vera Cruz, Cartagena de Indias, and Goa. The history of these policies has not been written as of the mid-2010s. In this way, Lisbon, Seville, and Cadiz served as kingpins for Atlantic and Pacific commercial activities. These ports are central to this article as are major ports within each of Iberia’s chief regions. Literature is available such as O’Flanagan 2008 (cited under General Overviews) dealing with the outcomes from the derogation of the monopoly of the ports in Spain after 1778. Related literature is abundant for a series of interconnected issues, such as urban growth and form, ethnic and residential patterns, and port hinterland and foreland relations. Coverage is weak on social issues, religion, and political contexts.

General Overviews

Coverage of Iberian ports is extremely uneven, both in time and in space. Few studies deal with ports of both countries. Individual Spanish Atlantic ports have received superior coverage. The Spanish government’s Ministry of Development (Fomento) and Ministry of Public Works (Obras Públicas) have published some excellent volumes such as Alemany Llovera 1991 and the edited volume Centro de Estudios Históricos de Obras Públicas y Urbanismo 1994. A few of the outline studies covering the leading urban centers in both states are Guàrdia, et al. 1994; O’Flanagan 2008; and O’Flanagan 2011. The gaps are most notable on most aspects of architecture; cultural, domestic, and religious aspects of ports and their changing social contents; the role of port authorities; and port cosmopolitanism.

  • Alemany Llovera, Joan. Los puertos españoles en el siglo XIX. Madrid: Ministerio de Obras Públicas, Transportes y Medio Ambiente, 1991.

    An admirable thematic analysis of Spain’s major ports during the 19th century. It furnishes a solid and comprehensive introduction to port change, with special emphasis on technical aspects of their management and the impact of the age of steam on ports. In addition, an excellent outline summary of port evolution over the 18th and 19th centuries is included.

  • Almeida Méndez, Antonio de. “Portugal, Morocco and Guinea: Reconfigurations of the North Atlantic in the Middle Ages.” In From Al-Andalus to the Americas (13th–17th Centuries): Destruction and Construction of Societies. Edited by Thomas Glick, Antonio Malpica, Fèlix Retamero, and Josep Torró, 401–428. The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World 65. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004365773

    This important study investigates the long-term Portuguese role in the colonization of the Atlantic, especially on Cape Verde, Morocco, and also in Guinea. It was an effort that began in 1415 only to end with the fall of the Portuguese monarchy in 1910. The author asserts that this colonization “paved the way for the construction of a common economic, social and political space” (p. 402).

  • Blake, John. The Sea Chart: The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational Charts. London: Conwey, 2010.

    A general outline of the evolution of maritime sea charts. There is one brief chapter on the development of sea charts in the Mediterranean. Sadly, sea charts have been neglected as a key source for maritime matters along the coasts of Iberia.

  • Blázquez, Antonio. “Descripción de las costas y puertos de España [y Portugal] de Pedro Teixeira Albernas (Albernaz) [c. 1634].” Boletín de la Real Sociedad Geográfica 52 (1910): 36–233.

    A classic outline of the leading cultural, demographic, economic, and topographic features of the entire Iberian coastline, including Portugal, prepared in the early 17th century. It is a transliteration of Pedro Teixeira’s written treatise and is effectively an early gazetteer of the Iberian coastline and its leading ports.

  • Butel, Pierre. The Atlantic. London: Routledge, 1999.

    French enterprises in the Atlantic and connections with the Spanish Atlantic are carefully scrutinized in this excellent piece of scholarship. Butel begins by exploring the early relationships between Europe and the Atlantic starting with what he terms the Mediterranean Atlantic. He also deals with the development of connections between such ports as Bordeaux, Nantes, and Saint-Malo with the Caribbean.

  • Centro de Estudios Históricos de Obras Públicas y Urbanismo. Puertos españoles en la historia. Madrid: Ministerio de Obras Públicas, Transportes y Medio Ambiente, 1994.

    This is an excellent multi-authored review of port development in Spain. It is a compendium of studies focused on different aspects of the history of port change. Divided into three parts: first, a series of thematic studies; next, chapters detailing shipbuilding evolution and the technical construction of ports; finally, a short and easily assimilable biography of all of Spain’s leading ports. For the student of port cities, this book is a critical starting point.

  • Guàrdia, Manuel, Francisco Javier Monclús, and José Luis Oyón, eds. Atlas histórico de cuidades europeas. Vol. 1, La Península Ibérica. Barcelona: Salvat, 1994.

    This is the only one of a major series of projected European urban atlases that was actually published. Each city’s physical evolution is addressed by one or more scholars. Emphasis is placed on expansion based on changing urban morphology. Some outstanding thematic maps of urban morphology have been produced, utilizing original sources. The fact that many of these were exceptional port cities is not given due emphasis.

  • O’Flanagan, Patrick. Port Cities of Atlantic Iberia, c. 1500–1900. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

    The study is focused on the fortunes of Iberia’s Atlantic port cities over the years of the monopoly and beyond. It remains the only attempt to evaluate the impact of a discrete political economy over the entire Iberian urban hierarchy, especially its ports.

  • O’Flanagan, Patrick. “Port Cities, Engines of Growth in an Emerging Atlantic System.” In Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks. Edited by Carola Hein, 29–42. London: Routledge, 2011.

    The author illustrates how a number of major ports, especially Iberian ports, laid the foundation for the emergence of an Atlantic system.

  • Saupin, Guy. “La ville atlantique européene des temps modernes: Perspectives pour une approche conceptuelle.” In Les villes atlantiques européenes. Edited by Guy Saupin, 9–41. Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2019.

    The author provides a much needed critical survey of possible conceptual approaches as well as an assessment of methodological tools that can be deployed to investigate port cities over time.

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