Bustling Port of Aden, 1515


C. 1572 view of Aden and 3 other ports. (Source.)

Duarte Barbosa (Ramusio), 1515.


Coming out of the Red Sea by Babelmendel, which is in the straits, as has been said, towards the open sea, further on the coast there are several towns of Moors, which all belong to the kingdom of Aden, and having passed these villages you arrive at the town of Aden, which belongs to the Moors, and has a king over it.

It is a very handsome city, with very large and fine houses, and a place of much trade, with good streets, and surrounded with a strong wall in their fashion. 

This city is on a point between a mountain and the sea; and this mountain ridge on the side of the main land is a precipitous rock, in such manner that on that side it has no more than one entrance, and on the top of this ridge, where the town is, there are many small towers, which look very pretty from the sea.

Inside the city there is no water at all, and outside of the gate towards the main land there is a building to which they make water come in pipes from another mountain at some little distance from there, and between one ridge and the other ridge there was a great plain.

In this city there are great Moorish merchants, and many Jews. They are white men, a few of them black, they dress in cloth of cotton, silk, scarlet wool, and camelots. Their clothes are long robes, and they wear caps on their heads, and with low shoes on their feet.

Their victuals are plenty of meat, wheaten bread, and rice which comes from India: there is plenty of fruit as in our parts, and there are in this place many horses and camels.

The king is always in the interior of the country, and he maintains his governor in this city.

Many ships, great and small, come there from many parts; that is to say, from Jiddah, whence they bring them much copper and quicksilver, and vermillion, coral, cloths of wool and silk. And they take from here in return spices, drugs, cotton cloths, and other things from Cambay, with provisions and other goods.

Many ships also touch there from Zeyla and Berbera with provisions and other goods, and carry away from there stuffs from Cambay, alaquequas, and large and small beads perforated for stringing, with which they trade in Arabia Felix, and in the country of Prester John.

Some ships from Ormuz likewise touch there to trade, and also from Cambay, whence they bring much cotton stuff, spices, drugs, jewels and pearls, alaquequas, spun cotton, and unspun; and they take from these madder, opium, raisins, copper, quicksilver, vermillion, rose-water which they make there, woollen and silk stuffs, coloured stuffs from Mecca, and gold in ingots or coined, and thread and camelots. 

And these ships of Cambay are so many and so large, and with so much merchandise, that it is a terrible thing to think of so great an expenditure of cotton stuffs as they bring.

There come likewise to this port of Aden many ships from Chaul and Dabul, and from Bengal and the country of Calicut; they used to come there with the before-mentioned goods and with a large quantity of rice and sugar, and cocoa-nuts which grow on the palm trees, and which are like nuts in flavour, and with the kernels they make drinking cups.

There also arrive there ships from Bengal, Samatra, and Malaca, which bring much spices and drugs, silks, benzoin, alacar, sandal-wood, aloes-wood, rhubarb, musk, and much cotton stuffs from Bengal and Mangala, so that it is a place of as much trade as there can be in the world, and of the richest merchandise.

The fleet and armament of the King of Portugal came to this city, and took and burned in its harbour several ships laden with much merchandise, and several empty ships, and it made an assault to enter the town, and mounted the walls with scaling ladders, which broke with the weight of the many people on them; so that the Portuguese went out again, and abandoned the town: and at this entry the Moors defended themselves very vigorously, and many of them died, and some of the Christians.


Having passed the said kingdom of Aden, going out of the strait towards the East, there is another kingdom of the Moors about twenty-five leagues off, near the sea, it has three or four towns on the coast, and they are called Xebech,[29] Diufar, and Fartach. These Moors have got a king over them and are very good fighting men: they have got horses which they make use of in war, and good arms with short blades; the said king is subject to the King of Aden and is his servant.

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