Johann Burckhardt – Indiana Jones Can Eat His Shit

Mental_Floss had a quick little article on adventurer and “orientalist” Johann Ludwig Burckhardt this month that sparked the desire to run with a little post of my own, so here we go…

Johann was truly one of the greats when it came to the explorer mystique that would come to be encapsulated inburk.jpe characters like Indiana Jones. Burckhardt’s journey began in 1809, when he and a group of other explorers signed up with the British African Association to discover the source of the river Niger. Deciding that his journey would be easier if he was able to blend in with Muslim traders that transversed the area, Johann decided to learn as much Arabic as he could. To this end Johann took up residence in Syria and Jordan, donned Arabic dress and took the name Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abdallah.

While in Jordan Johann decided to take a side trip, which thanks to his adoption of the local customs, resulted in him being able to get the first glimpses of the Temple of Petra, a site which had not been seen by Western eyes at that point for more that a millennium. You also may recognize this location from the third film involving you-know-who.petra02.jpg

Still wanting to achieve his original goal of finding the source of the River Niger, in 1812 Johann hopped a ride to Cairo, where he hoped to get himself on a caravan to Lybia. However, Johann again found himself pulled off-track, making multi-year jaunts up the Nile to discover the temple of Ramesses II and out to the Red Sea to become one of the few (if not the only) Westerner at the time to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and visit Medina.

In 1817, While awaiting another caravan promising to take Johann to Timbuktu (and from there to the Niger River) the by now weakened Johann died of dysentery having done more than almost anyone before or since to paint a fantastical image of exploration in the Arab world to Westerners back home.


~ by herodotuswept on March 14, 2008.

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