Single sheet (15 6/8 x 21 4/8 inches). Fine engraved views of Calechut Celeberrimum Indiae Emporium - Ormus - Canonor - S. Georgii Oppidum... [Cologne: ca 1572 or later].
Magnificent views of Kozhikode (Calicut), Hormuz (Ormus), Kannur and Elmina from the French edition of George Braun and Frans Hogenberg's landmark “Civitates orbis terrarium”, completed in Cologne between 1572 and 1618, and among the most beautiful and important images of Renaissance cities.
Calicut, a famous Indian centre of trade "is the noblest of all the Indian cities. It lies on the shores of the sea, is bigger than Lisbon and is impregnable even without ramparts . The king of this city is venerated as a god; the subjects obey him with the greatest servility. When he comes out of his palace, he is carried on a litter studded with all sorts of precious stones, accompanied by choirboys, singers, trumpeters and the like. His retinue and other nobles walk behind him; they carry drawn swords and spears in their hands; his archers and arms bearers go in front." (Braun).
The city is viewed from the sea, just as it would have appeared to the astonished eyes of the Portuguese explorers arriving from the west. For when Vasco da Gama landed at Kappad, some 25 km from Calicut (today Koshikode) in 1498, it marked an important moment in European history: the sea route to India had finally been discovered. Excuding a foreign air, Calicut appears within a forest of palm trees, set against a backdrop of mountains and with numerous ships in the foreground. The royal procession can be seen on the beach in front of the city, and to the right a working elephant with its driver. Kozhikode had already established itself as an important centre of power and trade even before Vasco da Gama's arrival. After taking the city in 1538, the Potuguese built a fort and from 1540 held the spice-trade monopoly. Kozhikode, which lies on the Malabar Coast in the Indian state of Kerla, today has some 445,000 inhabitants.
"Ormus, a magnificent city in Persia, lies on an island and is second to no other city on account of the beautiful and precious pearls that are found there. Fresh water and all the necessities of life are very expensive there, for almost everything that people need has to be brought in from outside. Three days' journey from Ormus, pearl oysters are found that contain larger and more beautiful pearls than elsewhere." (Braun).
The plate shows Hormuz on an island, in a stereotypical view that is probably a product of the draughtsman's imagination. The city is made up of tall, foreign-seeming houses with flat roofs, built close together, and is surrounded by a solid wall. Hormuz was captured in 1507 by Alfonso de Albuquerque and remained firmly in Portuguese hands from 1515 to 1622. Due to its position on the Strait of Hormuz - one of the most important straits in the world - at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, 16 km off the coast of Iran, the rocky island remains an important strategic location and a major centre of trade for the Arab world.
"In the Indian town of Cannanore the Portuguese king has an impressive fortified palace. The ruler of the town and his subjects worship idols; they pray to the sun, moon and cows. The town has a harbour where horses are imported from Persia, for which a very high toll has to be paid, however: 20,000 crowns for one horse. Many spices grow in the surrounding area, but first and foremost ginger." (Braun).
The view shows the town of Kannur - formerly anglicized as Cannanore - from the west. As in many engravings of Indian cities, the foreignness of the country is symbolized by palm trees and the simple architecture of the houses. In 1502 Kannur became a strategic base and trading port for the Portuguese, who shipped spices to Europe from here. In 1504 Francisco de Almeida, viceroy of India, built the castle mentioned in the text, Fort St Angelo, which is located 3 km from the town.
Elmin, or the town of St George, called Mina, was built on the orders of King John II of Portugal in Guinea in 1482; the Moorish merchants bring bullion, for which they receive from the Christians red and yellow linen and similarly sought-after goods.
The view of Mina (Elmina in modern-day Ghana) shows a smalll, fenced village (pagus) lying beside the massive castle of São Jorge da Mina, which was built in 1482 in order to protect the most important gold trading post on Africa's Gold Coast. The fort was the first European stronghold on Black African soil and remained the headquarters of the Portuguese in Africa up till 1637, when it was conquered by the Dutch. Due to its gold reserves, the African village that lay near the fort was called El Mina ("The Mine") by the Portuguese and in 1486 was granted a Portuguese municipal charter. Between the end of the 16th century and Ghana's independence, the villages around El Mina converged to become Elmina or Edina state. (Taschen, page 128)
The “Civitates…” was the first extensive series of town views that treated its subject matter in an accurate and meaningful way. Earlier collections of town views were far more limited in scope, and often made no real attempt to render the subject city with any degree of realism being simply a record of the existence of a town. Certainly the striking beauty and accuracy of Braun and Hogenberg's production was entirely unprecedented. Earlier collections contained no more than a handful of views, usually only of the more important cities, while the “Civitates…” contained literally hundreds of views, including many of smaller towns for which no earlier views are known. Even for the larger, important cities, the “Civitates…” is of the utmost importance to the history of their topography.