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First state of this rare Italian map illustrating the Italian Explorations into the Danakil or Afar Triangle region of the Soudan and of Ethiopia, Eritriea and Djibouti.

The map reports the explorations of approximately 13 explorations into the region between 1839 and 1884, the majority of which were conducted by Italians.


During the exploration of Ethiopia carried out in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, the Dancalia was nearly untouched by the Europeans.  Only a very few second hand and highly inaccurate accounts survive.  The Dancalia region, unlike the historical Abyssinia region, remained unknown to Europeans. It was not until the 19th Century that European colonial powers began to appear on the African continent and look toward the region for exploration.  With the planned opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the new colonial powers, especially France and England, turned their attentions toward the exploration of the region between the Red Sea and the Nile.

The newly unified Italy was among the European colonial powers in the Red Sea area, where the approach was easier due to the already deep-rooted presence of Catholic missions. The Italian government seriously posed the problem of the exploration of the Dancalia, especially starting from 1869, when, through Giuseppe Sapeto and then through the Rubattino Company, it bought the Bay of Assab, which would become Italian Eritrea.

It was essential to find a way that led directly from the Red Sea to the Abyssinian plateau to make the "establishment" of Assab work as a starting point for the Italian economic penetration in Ethiopia. Hence most of the expeditions to Dancalia in the pre-colonial era and in the following years, had as its purpose stated the geographical exploration of an unknown area, although the true purpose was the attempt at economic exploitation of the region, supported by the various "African companies" created in those years and later directly from the Italian governments.

Discovering a path to the plateau became the primary objective of every Italian explorer, of geographic and commercial societies, and of the military. To do this, however, it was necessary to penetrate the Dancalia. But it was extremely difficult and dangerous. Since 1800 a few brave explorers had made attempts, trying to cross the depression of the Afar from the Red Sea to the Abyssinian plateau. Among these European explorers, the Italians, some of them directly supported by the Italian Geographical Society, played a leading role in the exploration of the northern portion of the Afar.   However, only the outer edges were known, along the banks of the Red Sea, along the Abyssinian plateau and on the edge of the Hararino plateau on the border with the Somali region.

During the period between the late 1860s and the mid-1880s, a number of explorations were made into the region, as depicted on this map.


The map is very rare.  We locate 2 institutional copies of the map.  The map was re-issued in 1889 and 1890.