Historical Flahback

From the Mountains of the Moon to the Rwenzori

If one asks you: where are the Mountains of the Moon located, what would you answer? Well, the Mountains of the Moon are in Uganda, at the equator and the highest peaks are covered by ice and snow. But on today's geographical maps you will not find any indication about them, you will instead find the Rwenzori Mountains, the name that the Bakonzo, the local populations have always used to call this mountain group of more than 5.000 meters of height. But why the Mountains of the Moon have disappeared? Why that beautiful name has been cancelled from the maps? Because it was given to a not existing place. The early explorers, more than 2000 years ago, were looking for the sources of the mighty river Nile, they could not explain why so much water could come from the Sahara desert. It was only in the 19th century that thanks to various explorers like Speke, Stanley, Burton, Grant, Livingstone the map of that part of Africa was drawn. The river Nile gets its waters from Lake Victoria, the second largest lake of the world and from the Rwenzori Mountains.

In 1906 something very important happened in the region. A group of Italian explorers headed by Luigi Amedeo of Savoy Duke of Abruzzi, a member of the Italian royal family, scaled all the peaks, toured all the valleys and lakes of the mountain range, defined in a precise way all the geography of the territory and drew new maps still standing the test of time.

In 1906 the Duke of Abruzzi reached Mombasa from Napoli by boat and then with the newly railway line he arrived in Kisumu from where, by boat and via Lake Victoria, he docked in Entebbe. In fewer than 50 years the region from total obscurity got served by the best technology of the time. The Duke and his team could use the steam train in Kenya and the steam boat on Lake Victoria but this did not prevent them to have to walk from Entebbe to the Rwenzori in 16 legs with the help of the Baganda porters. Reaching Fort Portal, on the outskirts of the mountainous region, the Duke was warmly welcomed by King Kasagama of Toro. In the following 45 days all the geography of the area was drawn and the heights of the peaks determined. Beautiful photographs were snapped by Vittorio Sella, the official photographer of the expedition and brother to the Prime Minister of Italy. Thanks to the photographs of Mr. Sella the world over managed to see the unthought-of snow at the equator.

Today, one hundred years from that event the Italian Embassy in Kampala, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ugandan Ministry of Tourism and the Kingdom of Toro intend to review what happened 100 years ago. In Kampala and in Turin, town of the Duke and former capital of Italy, an anthropologic and photographic exhibition will take place. The heir of the Duke and of the photographer will be in Uganda and a commemorative ascent will be organized in order to give new light and new life to the past, enticing all those who love nature and mountains including those who may never have heard about the Mountains of the Moon.

Pietro Averono

Cultural Officer

Italian Embassy

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