“Portugal has one of the largest maritime and archaeological heritages of the world, a legacy of great importance and with enormous research potential.” The synopsis of the book “Pesca de Naufrágios” [“Shipwreck Fishing “] written by João Pedro Vaz is illustrative of it. Many ships and lives were lost in the deep waters along the Portuguese coast.
The first written account of a shipwreck dates from the year 966. According to historical accounts, a Viking fleet of 28 vessels that was attacking the then called Ribeira de Silves was sunk by andaluz Muslim galleys. Evidence of this shipwreck was collected in 1970 during the dredging of the Portimão commercial harbour – two wrecked ships were found at the mouth of the Arade River, one of them presumably Viking due to its characteristic hull. Another of these early shipwrecks dates from 1337. The contempt that King Afonso XI de Castela felt for his wife, Queen D. Maria daughter of the King Afonso IV of Portugal, led him to wage war with Castela. The 20 galley Portuguese fleet sailed from Lisbon aiming to attack the coast of Andaluzia. At the same time, a 30 galley Castilian fleet sailed from Seville. The encounter happened north of Cape São Vicente, and the Castilian won.
From the 15th century on, during the Discoveries era, the Portuguese and the Spaniards fearlessly braved the waters of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. The number of shipwreck accounts increased.
Nau Nossa Senhora dos Mártires, in 1606. It set sail from Lisbon to Goa in March 1605. On the voyage back it arrived at the Tagus bar with its cargo of pepper. Struck by a storm it sank near the São Julião da Barra Fort. In 1997 a state underwater archaelogical service started excavations in the Tagus bar and well preserved parts of the cargo were discovered, among which a great amount of peppercorns. The artefacts were on display at the Portugal Pavilion of the 1998 World Fair in Lisbon and a catalogue was published.
Nau Nossa Senhora da Conceição, in 1621. It carried many goods from India but somewhere between Cabo da Roca and Peniche it was attacked by 17 ships of Algerian pirates and sank after having been bombarded. The exact location of the shipwreck remains a mystery and until now only a bronze canon was recovered after having been found near Ericeira.
Nau Santa Catarina de Ribamar, in 1635. It set sail from Goa in March 1635 and sunk in the morning of November 2nd near Cabo da Roca. Legend says that in the 18th century there was a lady that knew where to go to fetch gold coins in a nearby beach.
Recently, a shipwreck became a tourist attraction and many Lisbon dwellers may certainly remember it. It was the Tolan container ship that in 1980 collided with the Swedish freighter Baranduna in the Tagus River at Cais das Colunas. Several attempts were made to remove it but only on the 2nd December 1983 did they succeed. During this time it served as a resting place for seagulls…