Erika Seetzen-Woods

Dr. Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, Orient Explorer

The earliest date of my family ancestry is the year 1540. In one branch of our genealogy we find Dr.Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, the son of a yeoman, landowner and marsh farmer, was born on 30.January 1767 in the little lordship of Jever, in German Frisia. He studied medicine, natural sciences, botany, mineralogy, agriculture and political economy at Goettingen University from 1785 to 1789. He graduated in medicine, but decided not to work in the medical profession. The affluence of his parents allowed him to pursue his interests in natural history, mineralogy and technology. He travelled through Germany, Holland, Austria and Hungary and published essays on these subjects in specialist journals. He went into business, became a Consultant and obtained a government post in Jever. By 1794 he had acquired a Dutch wind sawmill, a mussel lime works and a building material business. He had made the acquaintance of Alexander von Humboldt at University, where they conceived a plan to travel into distant countries. Von Humboldt was due to leave for his South American scientific expedition in 1799. Seetzen choose Asia and Africa and studied all the publications of Oriental and African authorities. His plan was to cross Africa from East to West in three years. He wanted to get acquainted with their customs, traditions and opinions and see for himself their natural and artistic products. The proposed subjects of his enquiry were natural history, statistics, agriculture, commerce, the arts, mathematical, physical and ancient geography and archaeology. He had worked hard to finance his extensive plans and was now financially able to undertake the journey. In 1801 he applied to the great naturalist Blumenbach for his advice. Blumenbach recommended Seetzen to the Astronomer Baron von Zach, who instructed him in astronomy at his Seeberger Observatory. Von Zach was enthusiastic about Seetzen`s intentions to navigate the Old World with the aid of astronomical calculations. He approached the Duke of Gotha, who was pleased to support Seetzen and financed the necessary instruments: Pocket Chronometer, Mirror Sextant, Telescope and Artificial Horizons, Levers and a large Magnetic needle for determining the Clination and Declination.The Duke entrusted Seetzen with considerable sums to purchase any interesting objects connected with the arts, religion and literature from the different places he would be visiting. On 13.of June 1802 Seetzen set off from Jever to Vienna, where he learned the art of drawing plans and maps. He travelled to Bucharest, across the Balkan to Constantinople, where he arrived on the 12.of December 02. He stayed for six months, then crossed over to Asia Minor and by land to Smyrna. He travelled to Aleppo with a caravan, where he arrived at the end of 1803, staying for 15 months and learning to speak Arabic and acquiring more Oriental handwritings and inscriptions. From Aleppo he proceeded to Damascus, through Syria and Palestine, as far as the deserts of Arabia, getting new information and making valuable collections. He returned to Damascus in 1805 and made excursions to Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, to Hermon, the Jordan, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. On the 1.of March 1805 he changed his name to Musa-al-Hakim (physician). He travelled to Joppa and by sea to Acre, where he remained until the end of 1806. His journeys were made under great privations and dangers, but he was rewarded by the discovery of ruins of ancient towns. He re-discovered Jerash, the first European to recognise this Graeco-Roman City. In March 1807 he was back in Jerusalem, where he collected specimens in mineralogy and botany. From here he travelled to Hebron, Horeb, over the Sinai mountain range with a caravan, then back north across the Isthmus of Suez to Cairo, where he stayed for two years. Here he purchased for the Museum of Gotha a collection of 1574 manuscripts, 3536 archaeological subjects, and many specimens in mineralogy, botany and zoology. In 1808 he visited the province of Faioum and examined the pyramids in Gizeh, the catacombs near Saccara and the great lake of Birket-eL-Karun. He travelled by sea to Yambo and Jidda and then to Mecca and Medina. The last date in Seetzen`s diary was the 23.of March 1809.In March he travelled towards Yemen with a pass from Imam Fina. In 1810 a force of six thousand men on camels burst into the province of Hauran, south of Damascus, plundered 35 towns and villages, killing the male inhabitants. Damascus was in panic and the Wahhabis could probably have captured the city. Instead, they vanished into the desert with their loot. Seetzen left al-Muha in the direction of Sana`a in September 1811 with 17 camels and his effects. Two days later he was found dead at the wayside near Ta`izz, most probably poisoned on the order of the Imam of Sana`a, before he could get back to the African continent. Mohammed Ali Pasha seized power in Egypt in 1811. The English traveller James Silk Buckingham, who published `Travels among the Arab Tribes` in 1815, informed the Duke of Gotha in 1815 that Seetzen had been assassinated in 1811. The reports in Seetzen`s diaries are very informative and full of humour. He described his meetings with landlords, street traders and servants, happenings in the bazaar´s and inns. He described the versatility of the Oriental society.Ethnological and geographical discoveries in his diaries made his sketches from the Middle East an important document for the oriental research in Europe. He distinguished himself by his impartiality towards the world and the people he travelled with beyond the European cultural circles. Seetzen found the discoveries in natural science as important as the oriental population and their habits. With his death in Yemen Europe lost a forerunner of the modern Orientalist, a scholar and discoverer who brought the mysterious Orient and its people closer to his contemporaries. Four volumes of Seetzen`s diaries were posthumously written and published in 1854 by Professor Dr.Friedrich Kruse in Berlin. Seetzen`s 8 original diaries are being kept in the Reference Library Oldenburg, the town of my birth. ..


All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Erika Seetzen-Woods.
Published on on 29.04.2004.


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