Carsten Niebuhr's travel accounts

„Costume of the distinguished Arabs of Yemen“

„Picture of a woman of the Coffee Mountains“

Carsten Niebuhrs Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien und anderen umliegenden Ländern. - Kopenhagen : Gedruckt in der Hofbuchdruckerey bey Nicolaus Möller, [1774-1778]. 2 Bde.

Austrian National Library, shelfmark: 309.801-C.Alt-Mag.1.2.

In 1760 German mathematician Carsten Niebuhr entered Danish service as a military engineer. The following year he joined the scientific team of the so-called „Royal Danish Arabia Expedition“ as cartographer. The six-person group travelled first to Constantinople and from there to Egypt and the Sinai, crossing the Arabian Peninsula into Yemen and finally to India. In 1763 and ΄64 all members of the group died except Niebuhr, who travelled on by himself, facing all adversities and making his way through Mesopotamia, Syria and Turkey back to Europe. Back in Copenhagen in 1767, he received many honours but also had to face critics diminishing his achievements, quoting him erroneously or doubting his knowledge of languages.

In fact Niebuhr had done much more than his task as cartographer demanded. Apart from producing maps of high quality, he took pains to record as many antique relics and epigraphic evidence as possible. The inscriptions he copied in blazing sunlight (then disregarding the damage to his eyes) from the ruins of Persepolis were to gain scientific importance in the early 1800s, serving G. F. Grotefend, the first decipherer of cuneiform, as a basis for his translations.

The two-volume edition of Niebuhr’s Reisebeschreibung (a third volume, Reisen durch Syrien und Palästina/Travels through Syria and Palestine, was published in Hamburg only in 1832) contains several maps by Niebuhr, plans of ancient sites, copies of inscriptions and images of realia and artefacts, as well as views of cities, landscapes and costume by another member of the expedition, the painter Georg Wilhelm Baurenfeind who had died on the journey from Mocha to Bombay.

This fine copy is part of the Loibl collection. 

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last update 8/24/2012