Livro Primeiro de Arquitectura Naval (c. 1600)

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The Livro Primeiro de Arquitectura Naval has been dated between 1608 and 1615, and is generally considered to have been written around 1600 by João Baptista Lavanha, the Chief Engineer and Chief Cosmographer of the kingdom of Portugal at that time.

João Baptista Lavanha

Lavanha was born in Lisbon around 1550, son of a court officer, and he enjoyed a successful career in spite of his Jewish origins.

He served as Master of Mathematics for four kings - Sebastian (1568-1578), Philip I (1581-1598), Philip II (1598-1621) and Philip III (1621-1640).

In 1586 he was appointed Engineer of Portugal and in 1591 Chief Cosmographer. In 1601 he visited Flanders. In 1607 and 1613 he sat on the commissions in charge of the standardization of the shipbuilding industry in Spain and Portugal, which issued the Ordenanzas of 1607 and 1613. Between 1610 and 1615 he worked on a map of Aragon, and in 1616 he worked on a system to supply water to Lisbon, a city constantly plagued by the scarcity of fresh water. In that same year he was appointed Chief Chronicler.

A friend of Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Lavanha died in 1624 after publishing many volumes, among which are a Description del Universo, written in Spanish, a Regimento Náutico, a Tratado da Arte de Navegar, a Tratado do Astrolábio, written in Portuguese, as well as a narrative of the shipwreck of the nau S. Alberto which was later included in the História Trágico-Marítima by Bernardo Gomes de Brito.

A facsimile was published in 1996 with a transcription and a translation into English.

The Treatise

It is the theoretical work of a scholar, and not the practical text of a shipwright. It deals only with one type of vessel: the four decked nau for the India Route. It is clearly more modern than Oliveira's Liuro da Fabrica das Naus, basing the construction of hulls on paper drawings. Nevertheless, Lavanha calls for the need to pre-design a central portion of the hull, although only for five frames forward and abaft the midship section. The importance of this treatise lies in its accurate description of construction techniques, and in its detailed illustrations. It is incomplete, ending abruptly in the beginning of a description of the drawing of plans. 1

Table of Contents

Construction Feature Description Page
Coral da roda
Coral do cadaste
Cavernas mestras
Compartida, alturas
Graminhos, alturas
Enchimento da proa
Compartida, fundo
Graminhos, fundo
Graminhos, convés
Graminhos, Proa

(ou Vaus)

Grade (ou Ponte)
Escoas e Dragas
Obras mortas
Castelo da popa
Castelo da proa


1. Nautical Archaeology Digital Library

Lavanha, Livro primeiro de Architectura Naval, Fac-simile, transcription and translation into English, Lisboa: Academia de Marinha, 1996.

Domingues, Francisco Contente, "Documents on Portuguese Naval Architecture (late 16th-early 17th century). A general overview." in Alves, Francisco, ed., Proceedings of the International Symposium 'Archaeology of Medieval and Modern Ships of Iberian-Atlantic Tradition', Lisbon, September 1998. Lisbon, Portugal: IPA, 2001.

Domingues, Francisco Contente, Os navios do mar oceano, Lisbon, Centro de História dos Descobrimentos, 2004.

Further Readng

Link to NADL copy of Livro Primeiro de Arquitectura Naval (c. 1600)

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