CUT THE RIBBON, JOHANN LUDWIG BURCKHARDT

Posted on February 20, 2014 by Editorial Staff

He was a Swiss orientalist, a traveler a disguised Muslim. He was  Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. Known for discovering the ruins of the city of Petra in Jordan. After studying in Leipzig, he visited England in the summer of 1806, carrying a letter of introduction from the naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach to Sir Joseph Banks, who, with the other members of the African Association, accepted his offer to launch an expedition to discover the source of the River Niger. Burckhardt planned to study Arabic, in the belief that his journey to Africa would be facilitated if he was accepted as a Muslim. As preparation he briefly studied Arabic and prepared for his rigorous career as an explorer. Burckhardt needed to explain his desire to continue via a roundabout route through Wadi Musa, rather than the more direct route that avoided it and went through Aquaba. He used with his guides the excuse that he had made a vow to sacrifice a goat at the tomb of Aaron, on a nearby hill. Although his guide became suspicious, the explorer managed to make it by entring at the Siq, rock-cut tombs and theatre. The date was 22 August, 1812. Burckhardt was 27. What is perhaps most remarkable is that Burckhardt seems to have been aware of Petra from his knowledge of classical literature. He recognised the city simply from a description of its location. After completing this journey, he based himself in Cairo at the end of 1812. Burckhardt finally felt prepared to begin his expedition to the Niger. But just eleven  days later he was dead from dysentery at the age of 32. He was buried in a tomb in Cairo under the name Sheikh Ibrahim.