In This Article Iberian Port Cities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources and Reference Works
  • Political Economies: Monopolies and Metropoles
  • Non-Metropole Port Cities
  • Urban Planning, Housing, and Public Buildings
  • 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 MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • 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 only permitted to trade 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 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 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. Ringrose 1983 deals with the vicissitudes of the entire Spanish urban hierarchy. 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.

    E-mail Citation »

    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, there is an excellent outline summary of port evolution over the 18th and 19th centuries.

  • 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.

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

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    French enterprise in the Atlantic and connections with the Spanish Atlantic is 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.

  • Capel Sáez, Horacio. Capitalismo y morfología urbana en España. Barcelona: Círculo de Lectores, 1990.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is a classic geography work exploring relationships between capitalism and urbanism and its contribution to shaping urban form in Spain. The role of ports, port commerce, and merchants is understated in this endeavor. First published in the mid-1970s, with several later various editions, it is a standard work on urban change in Spain.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    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 ciudades europeas. Vol. 1, La Península Ibérica. Barcelona: Salvat, 1994.

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

  • Mauro, Frédéric. Le Portugal et l’Atlantique au XVII siècle, 1570–1670: Étude economique. Paris: SEVPEN, 1960.

    E-mail Citation »

    Mauro’s work, although dated, remains a classic for understanding Portuguese engagement with the Atlantic through its ports. The author mentions the role of many Portuguese ports, even some minor ones, and he also addresses aspects of the voyages and the nature of seaborne commerce from many of Brazil’s major ports, such as Belém, Recife, and Salvador.

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

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    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.

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

  • Pinheiro Blot, Maria Luisa. Os portos na origem dos centros urbanos: Contributo para a arqueologia das cidades marítimas e flúvio-marítimas em Portugal. Lisbon, Portugal: Instituto Português de Arqueologia, 2003.

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    This is a valuable introduction to the study of the origins of maritime and river ports in Portugal.

  • Ringrose, David R. Madrid and the Spanish Economy, 1560–1850. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.

    E-mail Citation »

    Although this book does not deal specifically with Spain’s ports, it addresses the causes and consequences of the growth of Madrid and the impact of Madrid’s explosive expansion on Spain’s urban hierarchy, its regional development, and overland links with its ports.

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