Cais do Sodré Ship

Lisbon, Portugal

Citation information: Filipe Castro, "The Cais do Sodré Ship",, last updated in February 2008.

2001 and 2002 Field Seasons in Lisbon


The remains of the Cais do Sodré ship were exposed in April 1995 during the expansion works of Lisbon's subway train network (Fig. 1).  The remains of a ship were reported to the responsible engineers, and the work was stopped almost immediately.  However, we were to learn later from the hull remains that the midship frames had already been ripped apart and transported to a dump together with tons of sediment.

In spite of the interest shown by the public company promoting the construction of the new subway line - Metropolitano de Lisboa - the Cais do Sodré ship discovery happened in the wrong time frame.  From 1993 to 1997 Portugal saw a peculiar law being enacted, which authorized treasure hunting on territorial waters, and discouraged all archaeology of sites without artefacts carrying market value.  This legislation was frozen in 1995 and repealed in 1997 before any permit was issued to hunt for treasure in Portuguese waters.  However, the simple existence of such a law induced an almost complete indifference on the part of the authorities for all shipwreck sites without treasure.  This and several other circumstances would lead to the almost complete loss of the Cais do Sodré ship remains.

Fig. 1 - The Cais do Sodré ship during its excavation (Photo: Paulo Jorge Rodrigues).

Metropolitano de Lisboa paid a team of archaeologists and supplied a total station for the complete recording of the hull remains.  The work was carried out under the direction of Paulo Jorge Rodrigues assisted by archaeologist Ana Vale.

The ship laid perpendicular to the axis of the hall of the subway station, preserved along its full width (24 m).  This buried hall was built in three phases.  First trenches were dug and concreted to form the outer walls of the hall, then the bottom (which stands below the water level of the nearby Tagus River) was executed by injecting concrete from the surface, and then a slab was built over the hall to form its roof.  Only after this was completed did excavation begin inside this enormous concrete box.  When it was found the Cais do Sodré showed that both the stem and stern areas had been cut during the construction of the concrete walls.  And the injection pipes pierced the whole hull remains.

 Fig. 2 - Full drawings of the hull (drawings: Paulo Jorge Rodrigues).

Three full drawings of the shipwreck were produced at a 1/10 scale: one after full excavation and cleaning tasks were completed, the second after the removal of the ceiling, and a third drawing after the removal of the frames (Fig. 2).

The timbers were then removed to a warehouse and delivered to the antiquities agency in Portugal at that time, the Instituto Português do Património Arquitectónico e Arqueológico (IPPAR), which assumed the responsibility for its conservation, study, and publication.  Nothing was done however, and the timbers were left to dry, warp, and decay until the creation of a new agency, charged with the management of Portuguese archaeology, allowed these responsibilities to be transferred to a new team of people (Fig. 3).  This new agency, the Instituto Português de Arqueologia (IPA), included a department specifically charged with the management of both nautical and underwater archaeology in Portugal.  This was the Centro Nacional de Arqueologia Náutica e Subaquática (CNANS), and it inherited the Cais do Sodré timbers, whose study started again under the direction of Paulo Jorge Rodrigues.


Fig. 3 -Cais do Sodré´s timbers while under "care" of IPPAR bureaucrats, in January 1996.

During the summer of 2001 a group of students from Texas A&M University's Nautical Archaeology Program went to Lisbon on a grant from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology to help in the recording of the frames (Figs. 4 and 5).

Fig. 4 - Anthony Randolph recording one of the frames during the 2001 season.

Fig. 5 - Erik Flynn and Gustavo Garcia at work in 2001.



Fig. 6 - CNANS warehouse.

 Fig. 7 - Erik Flynn working at CNANS warehouse.



In the summer of 2002 Texas A&M University's Nautical Archaeology Program promoted a summer school in Lisbon to finish the recording of Cais do Sodré's frames (Figs. 5 and 6).

All frames had been recorded at a 1/1 scale during the summer of 2001.  During the summer of 2002 all 1/10 scale final drawings were finished.