Atlantic maritime life experienced a continued process of growth during the Middle Ages. The outset can be found in the increasing colonisation of the littoral from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries onward. This process led to increased human activities in coastal areas, whether through fishing, salt production or commercial endeavours. The growing population fostered a process of urbanisation, with the transformation of pre-existing settlements or the creation of new ones. However, the occupation of the coastline did not entail the abandonment of inland territories. Quite the contrary, rivers and interior routes ensured the connections between these complementary economic spaces.
Development during the late Middle Ages was amplified as a result of two closely related phenomena: a shift in activities from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and European expansion in the Atlantic space. Both phenomena aroused the interest of nascent political powers, the national monarchies, to recognise the ocean as a means to profit from commercial policies and expand their spheres of sovereignty. Their subjects benefitted from royal protection when imposing themselves over the nationals of Mediterranean republics, adopting some of their commercial techniques, to gain dominion of commercial routes.
The end of this process brought about the birth of what has been defined as the ‘Atlantic Civilisation’, characterised by the emergence of a new world order. Even though the driving force lay in Europe, its field of action spread beyond: first onto the African coast and later to the Indies, both Eastern and Western.
The centuries of development brought improvements in all aspects. Among these are those related to technical matters, the subject of this work. These are little-known facets, on account of the traditional focus of Atlantic scholarship on analysing commercial movements of large ports with their rich archival resources. Such analyses have primarily brought to light the role of large companies and of their main products.
Recent research in maritime history has gradually inserted these ports within their respective territories, in line with the definition of the ‘paramaritime’ world. This work sets off by analysing the features and configuration of urban areas. For this, port facilities are identified, making a distinction between docks, berths and loading spots. Further, for each of these sites, the devices employed in handling cargo are described, distinguishing between lifting devices and small vessels.