Digital Library

Liuro da Fabrica das Naus

Title:  Liuro da fabrica das naus

Author: Fernando Oliveira

Year:  c. 1580

Country: Portugal

Description:  Liuro da fabrica das naos / […] composto de nouo p[e]llo licenciado Fernando Oliueyra [Ca 1580]. – [3] f., [164] p., enc. : papel, il. ; 31 cm

Owner:  Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (BNP), Lisbon, Portugal

Call No.:  COD 3702

Notes: Published twice in facsimile:

Oliveira, Fernando, O Liuro da Fabrica das Naos (1580)Fac-simile, transcripition and translation into English, Lisboa: Academia de Marinha, 1991.

Oliveira, Fernando, O Liuro da Fabrica das Naos (1580)Fac-simile, transcripition and translation into English and Chinese, Macau: Museu Marítimo de Macau, 1995.

View Original

Digitized version of original document from the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal

View Digitized Original from the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal


The Liuro da Fabrica das Naus has been dated to 1580 and is the earliest surviving treatise on shipbuilding in Portuguese. Its author, Father Fernando Oliveira, had written a previous treatise in Latin, titled Ars Nautica, which included a section on naval architecture. The Liuro is a theoretical work by a scholar and not the practical work of a shipwright.

The Author

Fernando Oliveira was born c. 1507 in Aveiro, a coastal city with a long maritime tradition. He entered the Dominican Order at the age of nine or ten.  He studied in Évora, where he may have been pupil of a well-known humanist, André de Resende, who had studied in Spain with Antonio de Nebrija, the author of the first Spanish grammar. Oliveira left the Dominicans around the age of twenty five, in 1532. He later published the first Portuguese grammar, in 1536.  This book was followed by other scripts, among which are:
Arte da Guerra no Mar (1555), Ars nautica (1570, in Latin), Livro da fabrica das naus (c. 1580), and a history of Portugal.  Ars Nautica was compiled from previous notes, as he explains in Arte da Guerra no Mar, but these are probably lost.

He had an adventurous life as a sea pilot and political mediator.  It is not known how or when he acquired the skills to become a pilot. In the late thirties or early forties the French captured him while he was sailing from Barcelona to Genoa. He ended up working for François I in his fleet of war galleys, which was stationed in Marseille. He later returned to Lisbon, perhaps in 1542. In 1545, he enlisted again in the French navy as a pilot of one of the galleys sailing to England. He may have witnessed the sinking of the Mary Rose. In 1547, he was first arrested by the Holy Inquisition. He spent two years in the Inquisition dungeons. In 1552, during a Portuguese mission, he was made prisoner in the north of Africa.  He then returned to Portugal where he was again arrested by the Holy Inquisition. Despite spending at least another two years in their jail, from 1555 onward Oliveira seems to have settled and stayed in Portugal. He turned down invitations to work for the French and Spanish navies in the late 1660s.  He died after 1581, probably around 1585.


The Liuro da Fabrica das Naus is comprised of a clear text, with few illustrations, and is, unfortunately, incomplete. As it survived, it is divided into nine chapters. Father Oliveira defines the dimensions of the primary structural components of a ship—stem, stern post, midship and tail frames—as simple proportions of the length of the keel. He then describes the use of algorithms similar to the ones described by Timbotta (such as the mezzaluna or the incremental triangle) to calculate the narrowing and rising of the floor timbers in the central portion of the hull. The central portion of the hull here means the section between the tail frames (almogamas), the first and the last of the pre-designed frames of a vessel.

Jump to:

  • Table of Contents
  • Images from Original Text
  • Constructing a Nau
  • Table of Dimensions

Table of Contents

  • Prólogo
  • Capítulo 1 – Da antiguidade das naus
  • Capítulo 2 – Das madeiras convenientes para a fábrica das naus
  • Capítulo 3 – Do tempo em que se devem colher as madeiras e da maneira que se deve ter em as colher
  • Capítulo 4 – Dos achegos da fabrica naual
  • Capítulo 5 – De quantos generos, e maneyras de nauios ha na arte da nauegação: e dos nomes delles
  • Capítulo 6 – Que he necessaria arte na fabrica das naos, e diz que cousa he arte
  • Capítulo 7 – De como a arte na fabrica das naos imita, ou arremeda a natureza dalgus peyxes, e animaes
  • Capítulo 8 – Da fabrica, e medidas das naos de carrega
  • Capítulo 9 – Dos aparelhos necessarios para os nauios de carrega

Constructing a Nau

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Images from Cook, C. (2010) A Parametric Model of the Portuguese Nau.

Works Cited

Cook, C. (2010) A Parametric Model of the Portuguese Nau, Texas A&M University, MS Thesis.

Contente Domingues, Franscisco. (1985) “Experiência e conhecimento na construção naval portuguesa do século XVI: Os tratados de Fernando Oliveira.” Revista da Universidade de Coimbra.XXXIII: 339-364.

Domingues, Francisco Contente. (2004) Os navios do mar oceano, Lisbon: Centro de História dos Descobrimentos.

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