Novembro 2008


A Biblioteca Nacional disponibiliza na íntegra o ficheiro PDF do Catálogo de manuscritos da «Aula da Esfera» do colégio jesuíta de Santo Antão, o qual se encontrava esgotado desde poucas semanas após a sua publicação.

Trata-se da mais famosa colecção de manuscritos científicos, tendo a «Aula da Esfera» sido a mais importante instituição de ensino e prática científica em Portugal no período entre 1590 e 1759, distinguindo-se não apenas pelo ensino de náutica, mas também por ter proporcionado a divulgação de alguns dos mais significativos progressos da ciência, na época: «as teorias astronómicas de Galileu e o debate cosmológico, o telescópio e outra instrumentação óptica, o uso de logaritmos e outras técnicas matemáticas, o ensino da cartografia científica, estudos de máquinas simples, o debate acerca do estatuto científico da matemática»

Os manuscritos (correspondendo essencialmente a notas de aulas) compreendes temas variados, nomeadamente:  matemática, astronomia, astrologia, cosmografia, geografia, engenharia, estática, náutica e navegação, arte militar, instrumentos científicos, máquinas e artefactos tecnológicos.

Prince Henry’s caravel was specially designed for these explorer’s needs. He found some clues in the caravos, ships used by Arabs since ancient times off the Egyptian and Tunisian coasts, modeled on the still more ancient fishing vessels that the Greeks had made of rushes and hide. These dhows, rigged with “lateen”, slanting ant triangular sails, carried Arab crews of as many as thirty, in addition to seventy horses. A similar smaller, even more maneuverable vessel, called the caravela (-ela = diminutive) was in use on the Douro River in northern Portugal. Prince Henry’s shipbuilders produced the famous caravel, which combined some of the cargo-carrying features of the Arab caravos with the maneuverability of the Douro River caravelas.

These remarkable little vessels were large enough to hold an explorer’s supplies for a small crew of about twenty, who usually slept on deck but in bad weather went below. The caravel displaced about fifty tons, was about seventy feet in length and about twenty-five feet in the beam, and carried two or three lateen sail. “The best ships that sailed the seas” was what Alvise da Cadamosto (1432?-1511), the experienced Venetian mariner, called the caravels in 1456 after his African voyage in a caravel organized by Prince Henry. The caravel became the discoverer’s standard ship. Columbus’ three ships – the Santa Maria, The Pinta, and the Niña – were all of caravel design, and the Santa Maria was only one-fifth as big as the large Venetian square-riggers of his day. The caravel proved that bigger was not always better. […]

“The Portuguese Discoverers”, from “The Discoverers”, Daniel J. Boorstin, The National Board for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries, Lisbon, 1987

At Sagres and at the nearby port of Lagos, experiments in shipbuilding produced a new type of ship without which Prince Henry’s exploring expeditions and the great seafaring adventures of the next century would not have been possible. The caravel was a ship specially designed to bring explorers back. The familiar heavy, square-rigged barca or the still larger Venetian carrack was suited for sailing with the wind. These worked well enough within the Mediterranean, where the size of a trading vessel was a measure of its profit, and by 1450 there were Venetian square-riggers of six hundred tons or more. A larger ship meant a bigger profit from more cargo.

A discovery ship had its own special problems. It was not a cargo-vessel, it had to go long distances in unfamiliar waters and had to be able, if necessary, to sail into the wind. An exploring ship was no good unless it could get there and back. Its important cargo was news, which could be carried in a small parcel, even in the mind of one man, but which was definitely a return product, While discovery ships did not need to be big, they had to be maneuverable, and adept at the return. […]

“The Portuguese Discoverers”, from “The Discoverers”, Daniel J. Boorstin, The National Board for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries, Lisbon, 1987

To Sagres came sailors, travelers, and savants from all over, each adding some new fragment of fact or some new avenue to facts. Besides Jews, there were Muslims and Arabs, Italians from Genoa and Venice, Germans and Scandinavians, and, as exploring advanced, tribesmen from the west coast of Africa. At Sagres, too, were manuscript records of the great travelers that Prince Henry’s brother Pedro had collected during his grand tour (1419-1428) of the European courts. In Venice Pedro had received a copy of Marco Polo’s travels along with a map “which had all the parts of the earth described, whereby Prince Henry was much furthered.”

With these facts came the latest navigating instruments and newest navigating techniques. The mariner’s compass was already well known, but its use was still haunted by superstitious fears of its occult power, believed to be akin to necromancy. Only a century before, tricks such as those performed with the lodestone had got Roger Bacon in trouble. At Sagres the compass, like other instruments, was tested only by whether it helped the mariner reach out farther and then find his way home. […]

“The Portuguese Discoverers”, from “The Discoverers”, Daniel J. Boorstin, The National Board for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries, Lisbon, 1987

Prince Henry, for all these reasons, made Sagres a center for cartography, for navigation, and for shipbuilding. He knew that the unknown could be discovered only by clearly marking the boundaries of the known. This meant, of course, junking the caricatures drawn by Christian geographers and replacing them with cautious, piecemeal maps. And this required an incremental approach.

In the spirit of the portolanos, the coast pilots, he accumulated the bits of many mariner’s experiences to fill out an unknown coast. The Jews, wherever they were, had long since become powerful cultural ambassadors and cosmopolitanizers. The Catalan Jew from Majorca, Jehuda Cresques, son of the cartographer Abraham Cesques, whom we have already met, was brought to Sagres, where he supervised the piecing together of the geographic facts brought back by Prince Henry’s seafaring explorers. […]

“The Portuguese Discoverers”, from “The Discoverers”, Daniel J. Boorstin, The National Board for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries, Lisbon, 1987

O Presidente da República preside hoje à inauguração da Casa de Vasco da Gama e do Museu de Sines, no Castelo da cidade onde nasceu o navegador, cuja vida será ‘contada’ através de uma instalação multimédia.

[…]

A inauguração conta ainda com as apresentações musicais de Paulo Sousa (em representação da música da Índia), Mestre Galissa (Guiné Bissau) e vários agrupamentos da Escola das Artes de Sines, que se prolongarão até cerca das 15h00.

Na data em que Sines assinala 646 anos desde a sua elevação a vila por D. Pedro I, é aberta ao público a Casa virtual de Vasco da Gama, concebida pela empresa YDreams. O espaço, instalado na Torre de Menagem, local apontando como berço do navegador que descobriu o caminho marítimo para a Índia, constituirá um centro de evocação da vida e das viagens de Vasco da Gama e dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, recorrendo a uma instalação multimédia.

A biografia de Vasco da Gama, os espaços onde habitou no Castelo e as suas viagens pioneiras, com enfoque no contributo que tiveram para a criação do mundo moderno, serão apresentadas virtualmente, «dada a escassez de objectos que pudessem ser reunidos num trabalho mais tradicional».

Com um carácter interactivo, que permitirá ao visitante escolher o que quer explorar em cada fase do percurso, a instalação estará ainda preparada para receber todos os níveis etários, além de visitantes cegos e surdos.

O novo Museu da cidade, inaugurado na mesma ocasião, ocupará o rés-do-chão e o primeiro piso do Paço dos Governadores Militares (Alcáçova do Castelo), que servirá a partir de então de cenário a uma viagem por Sines ao longo do século XX, através de uma exposição que aí ficará patente até ao final de 2009.

[…]

Lusa/SOL

The visitor to Portugal today can see a lighthouse on the ruins of the fortress that Prince Henry made his headquarters for forty years. There Prince Henry initiated, organized, and commanded expeditions, on the frontier of mystery. In the first modern enterprise of exploring, from that spot he sent out an unbroken series of voyages into the unknown. Today’s visitor to the harsh inhospitable cliffs of Sagres senses the appeal that place must have had for an ascetic prince who wanted to separate himself from the formalities of an effete court.

At Sagres Prince Henry became the Navigator. There he applied the zeal and energy of the crusader to the modern exploring enterprise. Prince Henry’s court was a primitive Research and Development Laboratory. In the crusader’s world the known was dogma ant the unknown was unknowable. But in the explorer’s world the unknown was simply the not-yet discovered. And all the trivia of everyday experience could become signposts. […]

“The Portuguese Discoverers”, from “The Discoverers”, Daniel J. Boorstin, The National Board for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries, Lisbon, 1987

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