Luigi Amedeo di Savoy, Duke of Abruzzi [1873 - 1933] was born in Madrid to the then king of Spain also a Savoy, who abdicated his throne only a few weeks after his son’s birth and returned to Italy. When he was six years old, young Luigi was assigned to the Italian Navy and received his entire education in military schools. A man of great energy and imagination, 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.

Two years later he led an expedition to the North Pole which reached a latitude 86^34′ north, a new record at the time. In 1906 he led the Rwenzori expedition which climbed all the major peaks and made the most extensive exploration of the range before or since. A few 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 first ascent to the summit of Chogolisa was not made until 45 years later. During his great period of adventure and exploration, the Duke of Abruzzi remained a professional naval officer and on 30 September 1911 he commanded the squadron that attacked Preveza, Greece, in the first action of the Italian – Turkish War. Later, he commanded the Adriatic fleet of the Italian navy in World War I and is warmly remembered in Italy for his heroic rescue of more than 100.000 Yogoslav refugees from Albania. In his last years he became interested in the exploration and agricultural development of Somalia and Ethiopia, eventually marrying a Somali wife. After several expeditions to the region and the establishment of various agricultural schemes, he died in Ethiopia on 18th March 1933, where he was buried. In the 1980th the Duke’s family hoped to have his remains exhumed and returned to Italy, but bowed to the wishes of the Ethiopian villagers who refused to allow the exhumation, wanting to keep his remains – and memory – with them.

From “Uganda Rwenzori – A range of Images”, by David Pluth, 1996 Little Wolf Press, Switzerland.

Luigi Amedeo Duke of Abruzzi was the third born of Amedeo (1845-1890), first Duke of Aosta and king of Spain from 1870 to 1873. He does not have direct heirs, but the Aosta line is today represented by the fifth Duke of Aosta, Amedeo, born in 1943. Amedeo has already visited Uganda on the occasion of the 90th celebrations that took place in 1996 and he shall be once again in Uganda on the occasion of the Centenary.

Luigi Amedeo of Savoy , duke of Abruzzi together with A.F Knowles at the feet of the Rwenzori in 1906.

Luigi Amedeo of Savoy , duke of Abruzzi together with A.F Knowles at the feet of the Rwenzori in 1906.

By Mirella Tanderini

Until the First World War, the Duke of Abruzzi enjoyed an enormous popularity, both in Italy and abroad for his success in expeditions. After the war the duke retired from the navy and all his efforts aimed at building a farming colony in Somalia with the co-operation of Somali people. It was a dream he had nourished for a long time, since he first set his foot on the African coast in 1883 and fell in love with the Continent.

He succeeded in raising funds to reclaim land, build dams, roads and a railroad, factories and houses, schools, a fully equipped hospital, a Catholic church and a Mosque for 3.000 people living and working in the village that was called after his name.

His last expedition, in 1928, was to locate the sources of Uebi-Scebeli, the river on which his village was built, and to map the whole region down from Ethiopia highlands to the coastal Somalia. He spent his last days in his village and he wanted to be buried there, in the Continent he loved. His experiment of co-operation between European capital and technologies and African resources and labour was scarcely understood at this time, but the company he had set up went on successfully also after his death. When Somalia became independent it was nationalised and until 1992, when it was ravaged by civil was, it continued to be the major producer of sugar in the country.

After the Second World War, Italy became a Republic and that perhaps was one of the reasons why the Duke of Abruzzi was forgotten by his own fellow country men. Luigi Amedeo, Duke of Abruzzi was a Prince of the Crown and a cousin of the King Vittorio Emanuel III of Savoy that had allowed Fascism to rule Italy and to ally with the Nazi regime of Germany, and although he personally never approved of Mussolini and kept away from politics, the citizens of the new Republic preferred to forget about all the Savoys and for fifty years the Duke of the Abruzzi was scarcely mentioned in encyclopaedias and books on exploration and mountaineering.

It is the merit of the Kampala Conference (April 1996) to have anticipated a revival of interest for the Duke of Abruzzi on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Rwenzori expedition. There is a wealth of documentary material surviving: the accounts of the Duke’s expeditions, the book of Filippo de Filippi containing the extraordinary photos of Vittorio Sella (he was developing the photos in a tent working as dark room while up on the mountains), the maps and all the documents kept by the Fondazione Sella at Biella and in the Museum “Duca degli Abruzzi” in Turin and in the archives of foundations, alpine clubs and geographic societies all over the world. The Canadian writer Michael Shandrick and myself wrote a book on the life of the Duke. The ascent and the exploration of the Rwenzori massif is one of the most fascinating chapter in the book and we, the authors, are pleased that the celebrations for the Duke of Abruzzi started in the Continent that was the country of his choice in a period of history when Europeans considered it as a territory to conquer and exploit. It is a most significant event and the starting point of new studies and conferences that will render justice to a great explorer who was neglected for too long.

The above article was written by the Italian historian Mirella Tanderini on the occasion of the celebrations of the 90th anniversary of the Duke’s expedition organized by the Department of Geography of Makerere University, 1996

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