Carsten Niebuhr And The Arabian Journey

9 May 2011 - 6 September 2011 The Royal Library’s public areas


Large special exhibition on the 250-year anniversary of The Arabic Journey - the story of a dramatic journey and Carsten Niebuhr's unique scientific contribution

Two hundred and fifty years ago the Danish king Frederik V sent six carefully chosen individuals to what was then known as Arabia Felix – Happy Arabia. The expedition’s mission was to explore the unknown and mysterious Arabian world and secure answers to a range of scientific questions.

After nearly seven years, when many had given up hope of ever seeing the expedition members again, Carsten Niebuhr returned to Denmark as the expedition’s sole survivor. His publications, and the materials the expedition had collected en route, tell of a gruelling and extensive journey that would go down in history as an unprecedented research endeavour, and a landmark encounter between the members of the expedition and the Arabian world.

In celebration of the 250-year anniversary of the expedition, The Royal Library, in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, the Institute for Cross-cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has mounted the special exhibition Carsten Niebuhr and the Arabian Journey.

The Arabian Journey was paid for by King Frederik V (1746-1766) and included three specially selected scientists: the natural historian Peter Forsskål, the philologist Frederik Christian von Haven, and the cartographer Carsten Niebuhr, in addition to the doctor Christian Carl Kramer, the draughtsman and painter Georg Wilhelm Baurenfeind, and to act as their orderly, Berggren.

Based on the suggestions of a group of European scholars, the King directed the members of the expedition to find answers to a catalogue of scientific questions, to gather natural history items, to purchase Oriental manuscripts, and to make a record of life in the part of the Arabian world through which the expedition was to travel.

The exhibition tells the story of the dramatic course of the journey: of the first year’s stay in Cairo, of the journey to Yemen, of the voyage by sea to India and of the short stay in Bombay. This is then followed by the story of Carsten Niebuhr’s lonely and unique research efforts during the four year journey home and his arrival in Copenhagen in 1767. The exhibition provides a chronological overview of the journey’s progress and presents examples of the natural history materials gathered, the manuscripts purchased by the philologist and the maps drafted by Niebuhr.

Niebuhr was the only one to return alive. On his return he published several pioneering works through which his contemporaries were introduced to different aspects of life in the Arab world, works that were richly illustrated with maps and drafts of cities and mountains, drawings of farming equipments, shoes, hats and much more. These also included examples of his drawings of ancient ruins and copies of inscriptions made en route. The exhibition also features the first editions of Niebuhr’s works and first editions of Forsskål’s publications, published on Niebuhr’s initiative. 

About the exhibition

Admission is free. The exhibition is situated in the public areas of The Royal Library and is accesible Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7 pm.
Please note: The Black Diamond is closed on Whit Monday June 13th 2011

In display cases, on open shelves, by the pillars and in the tableaux, objects from the exhibition mix with the everyday life at the library 

Digital guide

There is an audio guide available in connection with the exhibition which can be borrowed from the Reception at the Black Diamond

Other activities

The 250 year anniversary of The Danish Arabia Expedition is organised by a number of Danish institutions, including The Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, The Royal Library, Post Danmark, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Danish Center for Culture and Development (DCCD). Read more at