Raunkiaer’s Detailed Map of Central Arabia—An Early Traveler’s Map
Finely-detailed map illustrating the travel route of Danish explorer Barclay Raunkiaer, whose early twentieth-century expedition proved to be a valuable primary source of information on the Arabian Peninsula.
Raunkiaer's travel account, published in Copenhagen in 1913, is considered an essential work on the region. He is particularly well known for providing detailed photographic and textual documentation of Kuwait prior to the discovery of oil.
The map provides an overview of Raunkiaer's journey through the region, along with the routes of fellow explorers William Gifford Palgrave in 1863 and Sir Lewis Pelly in 1865. Raunkiaer's journey was motivated by the need to explore the desert areas left unexplored by previous expeditions.
Directly below the title at top left, the mapmaker has included a simple scale. The three separate explorer’s routes are shown in the legend below the scale bar. The legend also includes the map symbols for existing caravan routes and different terrain features, including stone desert, sand desert, oases, and steppe. These terrain features are marked along Raunkiaer's route on the map, as noted in his original travel account.
The map is minimally decorated, providing a clean base map to focus on the expedition route details. The map’s extent is centered on eastern central Arabia and also includes the Persian Gulf coast from Kuwait to Bahrain. The map text is in Danish and includes transcribed Arabic place names.
Raunkiaer's Expedition to Arabia in 1912
At the turn of the twentieth century, members of the Royal Geographical Society of Denmark were looking to mount a large expedition of the unexplored central southern area of Arabia. Raunkiaer, who spent time in Tunisia with his father, a botanist, was considered a worthy candidate to conduct reconnaissance for the larger expedition. He was tasked with determining a suitable site on or near the east coast of Arabia to serve as a base for the future expedition. He obtained permission to travel in the al-Hasa area from Ottoman authorities, and in November 1911 set out from Denmark.
Raunkiaer's journey began in Basrah, by way of Constantinople and Baghdad. In Basrah, he was well received by Ottoman authorities. However, his plan to continue to al-Hasa via Bahrain had to be changed, since al-Hasa was experiencing political unrest. He decided to travel on to Kuwait after securing a letter of introduction from Ottoman authorities to Kuwait’s ruler, Sheik Mubarak, and hoped to convince Sheik Mubarak to help him continue his journey south.
He proceeded overland from Basrah to Kuwait, where he was able to eventually persuade Sheik Mubarak to provide him with letters of introduction to other rulers in central Arabia. While in Kuwait, he fell ill with what is thought to be undiagnosed tuberculosis.
He traveled onward from Kuwait to Bereidah, where the ruler of the area, Emir Fahad Ibn Muamir, refused his request to continue further west. Even with the letter of introduction from Sheik Mubarak, he was considered by many to be a political spy, making his journey difficult.
After being stopped at Bereidah, he travelled back through Zilfi, and south to Riyadh, accompanying a caravan along an established trading route. He struggled with his illness on this route, faced with extreme heat, food scarcity, caravan thieves stealing supplies, and other unexpected hardships.
In Riyadh he was favorably welcomed by 'Abd al-Rahman Ibn Sa'ud, father of the Emir Abd al-'Aziz Ibn Sa'ud, who connected Raunkiaer with a caravan traveling east and ensured his safe passage along the route by personally vouching for him. Although he was gravely ill at the time, Raunkiaer headed eastward toward Hofuf and eventually Adjer with the caravan, where his expedition ended. He returned to Denmark after a short time in Adjer and died shortly after, never recovering from the illness he contracted along his journey.
This map of central Arabia, focused on Barclay Raunkiaer’s 1912 journey, tells a fascinating story of European expeditions in the desert region at a time when exploration meant risking one’s life in pursuit of geographic knowledge. This map is an excellent choice for those interested in historic exploration and interactions between the Middle East and Europe at the turn of the twentieth century.
Danish explorer and author.
On behalf of the Royal Danish Geographical Society, he made a journey in 1912 in eastern Arabia. His travel description is still a valuable source..
Barclay Raunkiaer was born in Copenhagen as the only child of the plant ecologist Christen C. Raunkiaer and the author Ingeborg Raunkiaer. He finished high school 1908 and started studying geography at the University of Copenhagen.
Barclay accompanied his father to Tunisia and other Mediterranean countries in 1909-1910, where he studied the cultural geography of Tunisian agriculture, especially irrigation. When the Royal Danish Geographical Society made plans for an expedition to the Arabian Peninsula, he was made the leader.
Barclay departed from Copenhagen in November 1911 for Kuwait via Istanbul and Baghdad. From Kuwait, he went with a caravane to Riyadh and back to the coast of the Persian Gulf via Hofuf to Bahrain. He returned via Mumbai and Trieste to Copenhagen, arriving in June 1912.
After university, he worked for the East Asiatic Company, where he contracted tuberculosis and died at 25 years old.