The São Sebastião fortress at Mozambique Island: A testimony of the variety in sixteenth century military architecture

Lavies, P.D. (2012) The São Sebastião fortress at Mozambique Island: A testimony of the variety in sixteenth century military architecture. Masters thesis, University of Utrecht, Netherlands. [Thesis]


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Abstract (in English)

At the end of the fifteenth century Portuguese voyages had reached out to all continents of the earth. Contemporaneously, within Europe, fortification architecture was in a phase of intensive development. These two very different evolvements eventually resulted in the establishment of European fortifications along many far away shores, following new insights in the field of military engineering. The most prominent invention of renaissance military architecture has undoubtedly been the angle bastion. As historian John Hale has noted: ‘the application of the angle bastion to forts and town walls led to a homogeneity of style wherever the Europeans settled overseas.’ ‘The international style par excellance of the renaissance was that of military architecture.’ 1 Indeed, such defences can be found in places as far apart as Malacca, Recife, Cape Town and Havana. The image of a homogeneous style which has been universally applied could, however, lead to oversimplification. As will be discussed within this research, this has led to studies in which absolute consensus on the principals of renaissance military architecture has been implied. Such an outlook makes it difficult to explain fortification forms which do not comply with what is considered to be the standard. The assumption made in this study is that more variation has existed within renaissance military theories, than is commonly acknowledged. This hypothesis will be tested in a case study. This research focuses on a fort where aspects of its design are not built in agreement with the principals of renaissance military architecture as these are defined in most modern day literature. Because of the unusual shape of its outline, the São Sebastião fortress at Mozambique Island forms an interesting example. Within this case study the main aim is to gain a better understanding of this fortification. It will be tried to determine what approach to military architecture has led to its initial design and the applied modifications. Before this question can be answered, the different construction phases and the logic behind this will have to become clear. From there on, it can be investigated in what theories this design is embedded and where these ideas originate from. By critically analysing this extraordinary fortification, it is hoped that insights are gained which are also more generally applicable. The focus of this study will be on fortification outlines and the logic behind these forms. The structure of this thesis is as follows. The first chapter will provide an historical context of the São Sebastião fort. Here the role Mozambique Island played in the Portuguese sphere of influence is briefly discussed. Furthermore, defence architecture built on the island before the São Sebastião fortress was built will be mentioned. The second chapter describes the improvements of military architecture during the renaissance. Mostly based on modern literature, the development and spread of the new bastioned defence system will be discussed here. In chapter three the São Sebastião fort in its current state will be described as a starting point for the further analyses. Subsequently, in chapter four, different construction phases within the fort will be distinguished based on historical sources. In the last chapter the findings from the previous two chapters will be compared to the theoretical framework as described in chapter two. The different phases of the fort will thus be compared to the development within renaissance military theory and its general principles. Furthermore, the logic behind the structure is discussed and a comparison is made with a similar fortification. The chapter ends with a survey focussed on renaissance treatise texts which show a remarkable resemblance with what is found at the fortress of São Sebastião. After this, the final conclusions are formulated in the last section of this study. In addition to this, two appendixes are added to which references are made in the different chapters of this thesis. These supplements successively discuss the available information on the alleged architect of the fortress and the secondary fortifications built on Mozambique Island. Finally, a glossary provides the definitions used in this study of specific foreign and technical concepts. The terms included in the glossary are printed cursive in the text when these are mentioned for the first time.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Lavies, P.D.
Languages: English
Keywords: fortifications; bastions; renaissance ; 16th century; São Sebastião; fortified architecture; historic surveys; islands; mozambique; fortresses; interpretation
Subjects: A. THEORETICAL AND GENERAL ASPECTS > 02. Concept and definition
A. THEORETICAL AND GENERAL ASPECTS > 06. History of architecture
C. ARCHITECTURE > 01. Generalities
C. ARCHITECTURE > 03. Styles of architecture
C. ARCHITECTURE > 06. Structures of buildings
H. HERITAGE TYPOLOGIES > 28. World Heritage
Name of monument, town, site, museum: Mozambique island; Ilha de Moçambqiue; Indian Ocean ; Swahili coast; East Africa; San Sebastian
UNESCO WHC Number: 599; 1058
Depositing User: Mr. P.D. Lavies
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2013 10:48
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2013 10:48

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