Travels in Arabia: Comprehending an Account of those Territories in Hedjaz which the Mohammedans Regard as Sacred


John Lewis Burckhardt (1784−1817) was born Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in Lausanne, Switzerland. His accounts of his travels in the Middle East in the early 19th century are among the earliest modern European descriptions of Syria, Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan. Upon finishing university studies in Switzerland, he went to England to enroll in Cambridge University, where he studied Arabic and Islam in order to prepare himself for a career as an explorer-adventurer. As his acquaintance Muhammad ‘Ali Basha, ruler of Egypt, said of his adventurism, he possessed the “travelling madness.” Burckhardt spent his early twenties in Syria, where he perfected his Arabic and established himself as a scholar of Islam and a mendicant. In 1814−15 he travelled to the western Arabian Peninsula. Travels in Arabia  is one of several anthropological and geographical works written by Burckhardt before his life was cut short at age 33 by an illness that he contracted in Cairo. The chapter entitled “Remarks on the inhabitants of Mekka and Djidda” is rich in detail and opinions regarding domestic customs, tribes, treatment of slaves, everyday commerce, feast days, relations with other nationalities, and intellectual life. At the time of Burckhardt’s visit, Mecca and the whole of the Hejaz region was under the control of the governor-general of the Ottoman sultan, Muhammad ‘Ali Basha. His defeat of the Wahhabi forces affected daily life in the region. Burckhardt’s other  works include descriptions of Syria, the Levant, Sinai, and the Nile Valley; Notes on Bedouins and Wahabys; and a collection of Arabic, primarily Egyptian, proverbs compiled posthumously from his field diaries. This book is in two volumes and contains several maps and diagrams. Appendices give details of pilgrimage and trade routes emanating from Mecca. Burckhardt personally traveled some of these routes; others he learned about from descriptions by travelers and Bedouin. The book was published under the auspices of the African Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa, which was founded in England in 1788 to foster the exploration of Africa and abolition of the African slave trade.

Last updated: April 10, 2015