Landscapes of Fear: The Portuguese Coast

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In Portugal the connection with the sea is very ancient — that, at least, is the idea passed down through the generations, and taken to be a source of national pride. In Portuguese traditional literature, however, the sea and maritime matters are little discussed, compared to rural affairs, which is something of a contradiction for a nation that defines itself as “essentially maritime”. The historical data, too, seem to contradict the idea of a broadly maritime vocation. This article deals with the relationship the Portuguese have with their coastline, trying to understand the forms of settlement of that space. By comparing historical sources with the texts from the popular tradition we can determine the reasons – either real (piracy, storms and shipwrecks, scarcity of resources) or imaginary (fear of the unknown) – for the scant population of long stretches of the Portuguese coastline up to the nineteenth century. The image of an uninviting, hostile and deserted coastline transmitted through the popular tradition and the historical record fits in well with that theorized by Yi-Fu Tuan, in his work, Landscapes of Fear. Broadly speaking, the topos of ancestral fears of Portuguese popular tradition correlates with Tuan’s arguments: the landscapes of fear are spaces which represent desert, wilderness, no-man’s-land. In Portugal the nineteenth century represents a turning point for the coast, because it was then that it became a space for the recreation and leisure of the elites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-59
Number of pages32
JournalThe Nautilus. A Maritime Journal of Literature, History and Culture
Issue numberSpring
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Sea
  • Littoral and Popular Tradition


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