Duke, but not Ellington

Duke, but not Ellington

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Mountaineering, Ice Climbing, Scrambling

Just over a year and half ago (summer 2006)

Duke of the Abruzzi
...government of Uganda together with the government of Italy
organised the commemorating climb in the Rwenzori range
named “In the Footstep of the Duke”.
Furthermore, they've published the booklet titled
 “In the footstep of the Duke - The essential guide to history, climbing and trekking of the Rwenzori Mountains”,
containing the Map of the Rwenzori National Park.
Hovewer, not the one of the most influential figures in jazz, if not in all American music,
was the man to be tributed.

Tribute went in honour of the the slim Italian noble, who once wrote
"With will, courage, and perseverance, man can dare anything"
and has been almost entirely forgotten afterwards.


Mt. St. EliasMount Saint Elias
Climbers on Mt Stanley, RwenzoriClimbers on Mt. Stanley, Rwenzori
Duke of Abruzzi - Rwenzori 1906 collageDuke of Abruzzi during the 1906. Rwenzori expedition
K2 - 1909 expeditionItalian K2 1909. expedition
Duke of Abruzzi North pole expeditionPolar expedition 1899.
[img:379420:alignright:small:Polar expedition 1899.]Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi
born Luigi Amedeo Giuseppe Maria Ferdinando Francesco in Madrid, on January 29, 1873.
was Italian explorer, mountain climber and naval officer.

He  was born in Madrid to the then king of Spain who abdicated his throne just  few weeks after his son's birth and returned to Italy.
 When six years old, little Luigi was assigned to the Italian Navy and received his entire education in military schools.
Before he was 40 he had become one of the greatest  mountaineers and explorers of his time.

Before his main adventures, Duke of Abruzzi bagged  number of major Alpine summits to his credit.
including Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, and the Matterhorn, which he had climbed via the Breuil route, as well as via the Zmutt ridge,
together with his friend, English mountaineer (and economist) Albert Frederick Mummery.

At the age of 24 he organised and led the expedition that made the first ascent
of Mount St Elias (5,484 metres) in Alaska in 1897.  It was, and is, the second-highest peak in U.S. territory.
The climb had not been technically difficult, the Italians had nevertheless gone from sea level to 18,000 feet and back again,
on an exhausting trip of 125 miles. They had not lost a man; in fact there had been no serious accidents.
It was a triumph of physical endurance, good planning, and leadership, and the credit was due above all to Luigi Amedeo,
then aged 24. At the time it was flatly regarded as the most successful expedition ever undertaken.
It would be another half-century before the next group of climbers, from the Harvard Mountaineering Club,
reached the top of Mount St. Elias.

Two years later in 1899. he led an expedition to the North Pole which reached a latitude 86° 34’ north, a new record at the time
surpassing Nansen's by some 40 km.
 Leading the first trip northward from his ship, the duke froze his hands, had to haveseveral fingers amputated,
and gave over command of the Pole party to his friend Umberto Cagni.
During first part of this expedition, he arrived in the Norwegian capital Christiania (nowadays called Oslo)
together with 10 companions. The duke acquired the Jason, a whaler of 570 tons with steam engine.
Under its new name Stella Polare (“Pole Star”) the ship led the expedition through the frozen sea and on on June 30 the Pole Star
dropped anchor in the docks of Arkhangel’sk.

Having done the Alps, Alaska, and the Arctic, now he aimed at Africa.
Six years later in 1906 he led the Rwenzori expedition, to the snow-capped Rwenzori Range - The Mountains of the Moon
and the sources of the Nile, which lies astride the equator on the border between Uganda and Zaire.
These mountains are a mountaineer's paradise, a home of afro - alpine flora and fauna and a resource base for indigenous communities inhabiting the lower slopes and surrounding lowlands.
Abruzzi climbed all the major peaks and made the most extensive exploration of the range before or since.
When the duke returned from the Ruwenzori he was 33, world famous, and had been promoted to admiral.

Another three years later in 1909, he organised an expedition to the Karakoram
and set the record to the highest altitude yet achieved by ascending the second highest mountain in the world,
K2, to a height of about 7,500 metres [24,600 feet], along the route that today bears his name, the Abruzzi ridge.
On the same journey he increased this record when he ascended Chogolisa (Bride Peak) to an even higher altitude,
7.654 metres (about 25.110 feet), but did not reach the summit.
The duke's altitude record was to stand for 13 years until, in 1922, G.H.L. Mallory reached 27,000 feet during his first attempt
on Mt. Everest. The duke and his guides had moreover spent nine days above 21,000 feet, which no one had ever done before them.

During his great period of adventure and exploration, Duke of the Abruzzi remained a professional naval officer.
He was the Admiral of Italian Adriatic fleet during the WWI.

After the Glory Days

After the War, Duke of Abruzzi spent most of his time in Somalia - then Italian colony,
There he had founded the Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi, an agricultural settlement
experimenting new cultivation techniques near Mogadishu (Somalia).
In 1926 the colony comprised 16 villages, with 3,000 Somali and 200 Italian inhabitants.
There have been questionmarks over this period, as Somalis seem to have worked in the colony as slaves.

Abruzzi never married. He spent his last days in Mogadishu with his Somalian girlfriend Fatima Ali.
He died of the prostate cancer in Ghiohàr/Somalia, on March 18, 1933.

After the Second World War, Italy became a Republic and that was main reason why the Duke of Abruzzi
was forgotten by his own fellow country men. He was Prince of the Crown and a cousin of the
King Vittorio Emanuele III of Savoy, guy that had allowed Fascism to rule Italy and allied with the
Nazi regime of Germany. Although Duke of Abruzzi never approved of Mussolini and kept away from politics,
the citizens of the new Republic preferred to forget about all the Savoys.
And so, because of it,
for fifty years, one of the greatest modern mountaineers, and perhaps the greatest overall explorer of his time
was scarcely mentioned in encyclopaedias and books on exploration and mountaineering.
However, among the Mountaineers his value has always been remembered. And these days many schools, streets, mountain huts are dedicated to his memory, and the National Museum of the Mountain in Torino is named after him

Internal Links

Mount Saint Elias, Alaska

Mt. Stanley, Rwenzori range



Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-4 of 4

RenatoG - Feb 11, 2008 4:34 pm - Voted 10/10

Interesting page but...

...I don't agree completely with you when you say that "...the Duke of Abruzzi was forgotten by his own fellow country men...". In reality many schools, streets, mountain huts are dedicated to his memory, and even the National Museum of the Mountain bring his name!



Diveria - Feb 15, 2008 3:02 am - Voted 10/10

My compliments...

for this good page!
I really like hystoric stuff.
But...I agree with Renato, the "Duca" has noot been repudiated in his country, especially among the Mountaineers his value has always been remembered.

Ejnar Fjerdingstad

Ejnar Fjerdingstad - Mar 1, 2008 11:13 am - Voted 10/10

Very interesting.

I knew of his attempt on K2, and the climbs of Mt. St. Elias and Rwenzori, but it was interesting to read all the details you give of his life. It is a great injustice if he was forgotten, especially as he opened the route to the summit of K2, which the Italians later used on the first ascent in 1954 - an ascent that must rank with that of Everest when one considers the greater difficulty of K2.


RayMondo - Oct 29, 2009 7:14 am - Voted 10/10

Tough Explorer

Italy has bred some outstanding Alpinists and Explorers. It's nice to see this brought to light.

Viewing: 1-4 of 4