This highly attractive original manuscript chart showcases the Bay of Alicante, an important harbour along the Costa Blanca, drafted during the period of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). While the chart is undated and unsigned, it stylistically accords perfectly with the manner of the mid-18th Century. It was also almost certainly drafted by a French naval officer as during the period vessels of the Marine Royale (Royal French Navy) frequented Spanish waters and ports. While Spain did not formally join the French side in the war until 1761, since 1733, France and Spain were united in the alliance of the ‘Bourbon Family Compact’ (Pacte de Famille / Pacto de Familia), owing to the familial relationship between the two countries’ ruling houses.
Spain still maintained cartographic secrecy laws, motivated by (not unjustified) fears that hydrographic intelligence could be used by enemy states, notably Britain, to attacks their ports. This ensured that very few charts of Spanish waters were published up to this period, which often required French naval officers to draft their own charts of Spanish ports.
With toponymy written in French, the waters are colored in a brilliant aquamarine wash, typical of period, featuring a sailing ship and a compass rose, from which radiate rhumb lines, while bathymetric soundings dot the approaches to Alicante’s port.
Features along the shore are represented pictographically, including towns and mountains. The city of Alcante is labeled as “ville d’alican”, while in the waters before its quays are labeled ‘le molle’, the anchoring place for ships. Above the city, atop a steep precipice is ‘Le Chateau’, the Castell de Santa Bàrbara, an ancient fortress that was captured by Alfonso of Castile from the Moors in 1248. To the right of Alcante is the town of ‘Ste. Face’ (Santa Faz), while the points marking both extremities of Alicante Bay feature guard houses, acting as both beacons to shipping and as sentries on alert for enemy fleets.
Alicante was long one of the most important ports in the Valencia region of Spain. Its role as an entrepôt took a great hit during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), during which it was occupied by the British for three years. Following the conflict, Alicante focused its economy on the export of high value agricultural products such as oranges and almonds, leathers goods and fish.
This especially attractive chart of Alcante is an important artifact of Seven Years’ War era and a fine work of maritime cartography created by a French naval officer operating in Spanish waters.