Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

ARABIA FELIX: The Danish Expedition of 1761-1787

  • Written by  Nigel Winser
  • Published in Books
ARABIA FELIX: The Danish Expedition of 1761-1787
09 Nov
by Thorkild Hansen • New York Review Books • £11.99 (softback)

On 3 January 1765, the young German astronomer Carsten Niebuhr watched ‘whole armies’ of dolphins as he entered the port of Muscat aboard an English warship belonging to the East India Company and moored alongside Arab dhows ‘loaded to the rails with dates’.

Sadly, Carsten was alone: the sole surviving member of an ill-fated six strong Danish Expedition to southwest Arabia that had left Copenhagen some four years earlier. Niebuhr was on his way home via Persepolis, Basra, Mosul and Aleppo to write their story.

Six young plucky scholars from Germany, Sweden and Denmark were on a mission for King Frederick V of Denmark with instructions ‘to leave for Constantinople with the warship Greenland and proceed from there through Egypt to Arabia Felix, to make whatever observations are possible,’ while answering a hundred questions set by Orientalist Professor Johann Michaelis.

Destined to contribute to a better understanding of Turkey, Sinai, Egypt and Yemen, Niebuhr’s massive description of their journey and the demise of his five diseased and bad mannered companions fell on deaf ears, lying dormant in dusty archives. As did their anthropological and archaeological insights. A tragic story, lost because the King wasn’t alive when Niebuhr returned to his homeland.

There they might have stayed had it not been for the Danish novelist Thorkild Hansen in 1962 who drew on the journals and letters of Carsten and those who perished to write Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition 1761-1767. This illuminating record of the first scientific expedition to be sent to Arabia has been republished by New York Review Books with the original maps and delightful line drawings, alongside the chaotic shenanigans of the team. Saved and accessible, we now have the absorbing story, stranger than fiction, offering a review of Carsten Niebuhr ’s landmark voyage and Europe’s obsessive curiosity of the Middle East, 250 years ago.

Click here to purchase Arabia Felix by Thorkild Hansen via Amazon

red line


Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...


by Joe Shute • Bloomsbury • £16.99 (hardback)


by Beau Riffenburgh • Andre Deutsch • £25 (hardback)


by Diana Preston • Bloomsbury • £25 (hardback)


by Michael Benanav • Pegasus Books • £21.99 (hardback)


by Tony Juniper • Profile Books • £16.99/£12.99 (hardback/ebook)


by Roland Jackson • Oxford University Press • £25 (hardback)


by Kristy Leissle • Polity Press • £14.99 (paperback)


by Christopher Somerville  •  Black Swan Publishing  •  £9.99 (paperback)


by Doug Scott  •  Vertebrate Publishing  •  £20 (hardback)


by Ursula Martin  •  Honno Press  •  £12.99 (paperback)


by Navid Kermani  •  Polity Books  •  £17.99 (paperback)


by Julian Sayarer • Arcadia Books • £9.99 (hardback)


by Robin Hanbury-Tenison • IB Tauris • £17.99 (hardback)


by Daniel Schwartz •  Thames & Hudson •  £40 (hardback)


by Nigel Hughes • £25 (hardback)


by Caitlin Doughty • Weidenfeld & Nicolson • £14.99/£7.99 (hardback/eBook)


directed by Ivo Van Hove •  National Theatre


by Norman Davies • Allen Lane • £30 (hardback)


This intimate east London exhibition provides a multi-sensory exploration into…