Luigi Amedeo Giuseppe Maria Ferdinando Francesco

Luigi Amedeo Giuseppe Maria Ferdinando Francesco (January 29, 1873 – March 18, 1933), popularly called Luigi Amedeo, Duke of Abruzzi, was an Italian mountaineer and was the first to climb Mount Saint Elias in 1897. He was also a naval officer and was considered one of the finest battle fleet Commander-in-Chiefs.

The early years

Born in Madrid in Spain as the third son to the Amedeo di Savoia (the King of Spain from 1871 to 1873; he renounced his throne weeks after his sons birth and returned to Italy), Luigi Amedeo was a well known mountain climber. At the tender age of eight, he was assigned to the Italian Navy and from then on, was educated completely in military schools. He loved traveling and started his adventures around the world when he was 20. Since he was fascinated by the mountains right from an early age, he trained as a mountaineer from 1882 on Monte Bianco and Monte Rosa. In 1897, he climbed Mount Saint Elias – in Alaska, 5489 meters tall - a feat no one had achieved till then. The fact that he was a member of the House of Savoy is also worth a mention at this point.

The great feats

He started out on a polar expedition in 1899 and this soon became the talk of mountaineering communities around the world. He reached Christiania – the then Norwegian capital – along with his friends and acquired a 570-ton whaler called Jason. After re-christening it as Stella Polare (“Pole Star”), they headed towards Arkhangel’sk. The party received a grand welcome what with the governor Engelhardt personally coming to receive them. The city theatre later laid out a splendid show for Abruzzi which included the play ‘The Princess of Baghdad’.

The Arctic Expedition

Twenty men including Captain Umberto Cagni, Lieutenant Querini, and Doctor Cavalli Molinelli took part in the Arctic expedition. The idea was to go to Franz Joseph land where they would set up camp and then proceed towards the North Pole by dog sleds.

Finally, the winter camp was set up at Rudolf Island. The biting cold made the Duke lose two fingers and hence he had to relinquish command to Captain Cagni. On April 25, 1900 Cagni reached latitude 86o 34’ and this beat Nansen’s achievement of 1895. During the course of this expedition, the northern coast of Rudolf-Island and two other islands were measured and lots of crucial information regarding these islands was collected.

In 1906, the Duke once again took charge of an expedition – this time, to the Ruwenzori (in the local language, this meant “Mountains of the Moon”) range (5125 m) which is located in Kenya. This mountain range is the biggest in Africa and its snow covered peaks pose a formidable challenge to the most intrepid climber. The expedition included photographer Vittorio Sella, biologist Achille Mulinelli, and also the geologist Dr Alessandro Roccati. Considering the fact that several Englishmen had tried, without luck, to conquer this range, it was indeed an incredible achievement that the Duke was able to conquer 16 summits, including the most difficult six of them. As a tribute to this achievement, one of the summits, Luigi di Savoia, has been named after him. On occasion of the centenary celebrations, the Italian and Ugandan communities honour the memory of the Duke this year, by organizing various special events. The Italian Embassy at Kampala, the Museo della Montagna, the University of Turin, the Ugandan Museum, The Tourist board of Uganda, and the Ugandan Wildlife Authority are all expected to participate in the celebrations.

No mountaineer’s experience is complete without a stint in the mighty Himalayas. In 1909, Luigi lead another team which reached a height of 6666 meters in the Karakoram Range (K2). The K2’s East Ridge is now known as the Abruzzi Spur.

The very next year, though an attempt to best the summit of Chogolisa failed, he set a world record for maximum altitude.

The African connection

The Duke first set foot on the African continent in 1883 and immediately took a liking to the place. With a burning desire to make a difference to the millions of poor people in the continent, he successfully raised funds to build dams, roads (and even a railroad), schools, hospitals, a Church and even a Mosque for a group of people living in a village named Villagio Duca degli Abruzzi. He eventually married a Somali woman.

The final expedition he went on was in 1928 and it was to find out where the river Uebi-Scebeli began, and also to map the whole region - from the Ethiopian highlands to coastal Somalia. He experimented on partnership between European capital and technologies and African resources and labour and in fact set up a company which was successful even after his death. The company went into Government hands when Somalia gained freedom and till the year 1992, when there was raging civil war in the country, it was a major producer of Sugar in the nation.

Abruzzi and the navy

Before he was appointed as the Commander-in-chief of the navy, the Duke was required to conduct many scientific and geographic expeditions. During this entire period of his explorations, Abruzzi was actively involved in the navy and in fact, on September 30th, 1911, commanded a squadron and attacked Preveza in Greece and this proved as a curtain raiser to the Italian-Turkish war. He also served as the commander of the Adriatic fleet of the Italian navy in World War I and became a hero when saving the lives of more than 100000 Yugoslav refugees from Albania.

Abruzzi declined many a time to risk his fleet in small time surface actions, and this cost him politically. When he eventually fell short of destroyers for use in anti-submarine operations, the government lost confidence in him, though he was still held in high esteem in the naval circles. The Italian press was unforgiving though and in the year 1917, he was replaced by Admiral Revel and he subsequently turned down an appointment (though it was only a honorary post) as Inspector-General of the navy. In 1918, he was appointed as a full Admiral.

The Duke of Abruzzi died on March 18, 1933 in a place called Ghiohar, near Abruzzi City (now called Mogadishu) in Somalia. When Italy became a republic after World War II, the Duke was forgotten by his own men, but the Kampala Conference of 1996, should be credited with reviving interest for the Duke on the account of the 90th anniversary of the Rwenzori expedition. In his honor, a museum called the ‘Duke of Abruzzi National Museum of the Mount’ has been built in Torino.