Preface To Extraordinary Travels, CD Press, 2001

excerptIn 1898, at the general assembly of the Romanian Geographic Society, its general secretary, George I. Lahovary, presenting a report on the activities performed the previous year, remarked that the Romanians had lately undertaken travels and even explorations of some far away lands, with results worthy of interest. To support his statement, he reminded of the travels to Iceland, Africa, America or even around the world: "A sign of the fact that we, Romanians, have begun to be interested in the great geographic problems is represented by the travels to far-away places lately undertaken by our compatriots, for scientific reasons; you remember, thus, the daring exploration journey in Tierra del Fuego accomplished by our regretted engineer Iuliu Popper, a child of Bucharest. Messrs. Ghica-Comanesti, father and son, became famous in the geographic field, due to their discoveries in the country of the Somalis; the Strat brothers [George and Dimitrie Strat were cousins and traveled together with Nicolae Rosetti] have recently completed une tournée in Dahomey, the country of the ferocious Benhazin and of the brave amazons [Benhazin, king of Dahomey between 1884-1906; he fought against the French general Alfred Dodds, from 1890 to1893, when he was defeated, taken prisoner and deported.] Mr. Albert Ghica has recently visited Morocco, on which he promised to give a conference at our Society, and even as we speak, we have Mr. Racovita on the way to the South Pole, with the Belgian expedition, and our colleague, Mr. Assan, who, a year ago, recounted to us, in this room, about his trip to Spitzbergen, is on his way to China and Japan…"The statements of the secretary of the illustrious Society, presided by Romania's king himself, Carol I, were more than gratifying. Romanians had been traveling since times immemorial, but most of the frequent voyages from the second half of the 19th century had as a final goal Paris, Vienna, Monaco or fashionable resorts. Those who had the necessary financial means spent their holydays in the "City of Lights," danced at the balls in Vienna, or went to treat hypothetical infirmities at Carlsbad and Marienburg. It was only in the last decades of the 19th century, possibly also because of the foundation, in 1875, of the Romanian Geographic Society, that things started to change. The Society tried to encourage the initiatives of some Romanian explorers and travelers, who, most of the times, upon coming back to the country, were invited to lecture at the Society and to publish in its prestigious Bulletin. Those who have some time to leaf through the 61 extensive volumes, published between 1876 and 1942, can find in them illustrious names, for a long time now associated to the history of explorations and of culture, and also accounts that, after more than a century, did not lose their capacity of being interesting and attractive.

by Alexandru Marinescu