Hungarian Explorers of the Silk Road

In the past centuries, the exploration of the prehistory of the Hungarian people prodded several excellent travelers and scientists to set off on a mysterious but often very dangerous journey to the East.  Others were attracted into the region by its physical geography and the peoples of distant countries. These travellers are the representatives of various scientific fields: they are linguists, art historians, ethnographers, geographers. In our present collection, although it is not exhaustive, we will describe the lives of outstanding Hungarian travellers whose work can be related to the Silk Road. The discoveries made bay them played a crucial role in the exploration of the Silk Road, almost unknown for the Western world until then. Today, when China’s role is becoming more and more prominent, due to its economic policy the Silk Road is becoming an important geopolitical axis again, which adds value to the memories of the Hungarian explorations again.

Friar Julian

Little of the life of Dominican monk before 1235 is known. According to historical sources, Friar Julian had become the member of the order expanding under the leadership of Paul of Hungary, who studied in Italy. For the order, Hungary was the easternmost bastion of western Christianity, and the Dominicans arrived in the country with a very ambitious plan: they sent their missionaries to the east, to the Vltava region and Wallachia, but their longer-term plan was to catholicize the Russian state and to establish papal domination over the steppes stretching to the Volga. In order to achieve this, the Dominicans sent several expeditions eastward. The first one set off in 1231 and was led by Brother Otto who, upon arrival, broke the news about Hungarians living in the eastern steppes.  Friar Julian set off on his first journey with three other monks in 1235. The expedition of four people left from Újfalu, near Esztergom, for Constantinople, where they crossed the Black Sea by ship. They anchored at present-day Taman, where they headed east and reached the Alan town of Torgika. They were stranded there for six months but they could not find any Hungarians. Two members of the expedition gave up the hazardous journey and went home. But Julian and Gerard continued the journey to the north along the Volga; here the last fellow traveller of the Hungarian monk died. Then the Dominican monk had to become the servant of an imam in the Muslim region. Finally, his luck turned because in a Bulgarian town he met a Hungarian woman who told him useful information about the whereabouts of the Hungarians.  The monk arrived in Magna Hungaria in the spring of 1236. He spent a month there, studying the life of the Hungarians remaining behind in the homeland, and the complicated political situation of the world of the steppes. The report on Julian’s first journey was written by Riccardus, the prefect of the Dominican order, which was discovered by Márton Cseles in the archives of the Vatican in 1695. The travelogue gave a detailed account on the life of the Hungarian living in Magna Hungaria, who practiced a pagan religion and pursued a nomadic life. Volga Hungarians were excellent warriors who even defeated the Tartars, and, having entered into alliance with them, conquered several countries.  Returning home, Julian gave account on his experiences to his superiors in Rome, including news on the invasion on the Holy Roman Empire and Europe, which the Tartars planned to carry out after a military campaign against the Persians.

The route of Friar Julian’s travels

In 1237, Friar Julian set off on a second journey but he was not able to find the Hungarians because the troops of Batu Khan and Subotai had devastated the region along the Volga and the inhabitants had been either slaughtered or kidnapped and taken to Central Asia. The journey of the monk was not unsuccessful, though; he gathered a lot of information about the Mongols, and he also carried a letter of ultimatum to King Béla IV., in which the Mongol ruler demanded unconditioned surrender from the Hungarian king. Unfortunately, the message fell on deaf ears, and four years later the Tatars, keeping their “promise”, brought about unprecedented destruction in the Carpathian Basin.

Friar Julian was the first of a series of Hungarian explorers who left eastwards looking for the native homeland, and the only one who could meet our relatives living along the Volga.

Friar Gregory

In the 14th century, Friar Gregory (also known as Gregory of Hungary) travelled as a member of the pope’s embassy to what is present-day Beijing to the great khan, becoming the first Hungarian who visited the Far East. In 1338 Pope Benedict XII sent an embassy led by Giovanni Marignoli to East Asia. The mission went via  Constantinople, then sailed to Caffa in Crimea (its current name Feodosia), and crossing the territories of the Kipchak Tatars arrived at the headquarters of Öz Beg Khan.  They passed the winter of 1339-1340 in the city of Serai on the Volga and they proceeded to the east when spring came. At the end of 1341 they arrived at the great khan’s place, in Khanbaliq, i.e. present-day Beijing, where they enjoyed the hospitality of the Mongols. The embassy spent 5 years in the Yuan Empire and they left for home in 1346. On their way back home they crossed the Yellow River, Hangchou, today Xiamen, and Qilon in India, where they embarked and passing Hormuz, Mosul and Cyprus they returned to Avignon in 1353. Although we cannot learn much about Friar Gregory from historical sources – since they are primarily focused on Marignoli – they still prove that Gregory was the first Hungarian who got to the regions of present-day China and India.

Sándor Csoma De Kőrös

 (Kőrös, 27 March 1784 – Darjeeling, 11 April 1842)

The famous Hungarian traveller, linguist and the founder of Tibetology was born in Kőrös, Transylvania into a poor family of minor nobility serving with the border guards. He commenced his studies in the local village school, but after he finished school he did not join the border guards but, through his father’s intervention, continued his studies in a boarding school, the Bethenianum in Nagyenyed (present day Aiud) from 1799. The school granted him free education in return for manual labour.

He spent more than fifteen years in the boarding school of Nagyenyed. He learnt – among others – Greek, Latin, German and French, as well as theology and philosophy.  As a reward for his outstanding scholastic records, he was granted a scholarship from the prince and was offered a teacher position in lower grades.  During the years spent here, he got acquainted with the various theories about the prehistory of the Hungarian people, including the theory of the Uyghur relationship, which played a significant role in his later journey to search for the original homeland of Hungarians.

He continued his studies with a scholarship in Göttingen in 1815. Here he could learn from such excellent orientalists as Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, who also taught him Turkish and Arabic. He met the Uyghur theory again in Göttingen, a newer version of which was developed by   Heinrich Klaproth, a professor in Göttingen. According to this theory, all Ugric peoples – including Hungarians – are relatives of the Uyghurs.  In 1818-ban he returned to Nagyenyed, where he started to plan his Central Asian expedition, the goal of which was to find the original homeland of the Hungarians. His idea was received very skeptically by many, but nothing could dissuade him from his decision.

Beginning of Csoma’s Journey

In the autumn of 1819 Csoma left Hungary for good with a local border traffic permit. He intended to go to Istanbul and then Alexandria to improve his knowledge of the Arabic language, but he was forced by a plague outbreak to modify his itinerary. Thus he travelled to Aleppo via Cyprus, Beirut, Tripoli and Latakia. There he joined a caravan and he reached Baghdad. He finally arrived in Teheran at the end of October, where he spent a longer time in the company of the British ambassador, Henry Wilcock, and his brother, George Willock, while he was improving his Persian and English knowledge.

In the spring of 1821, Csoma  decided to continue his journey eastwards, leaving his passport and papers behind.  But his plan failed because the war raging in the Afghan mountains blocked his route. Therefore he headed south and let for Panjab province in India across present-day Pakistan, but, finding the journey extremely expensive and life-threatening, he turned back on the border of the Ladakh Kingdom. On his journey back he met William Moorcroft, who played a crucial role in Csoma’ research, because it was Moorcroft who encouraged him in his Tibetian studies. The appearance of the Hungarian scholar just fit the British expansion plans, and Csoma was probably hoping for finding some information about the prehistory of Hungarians in Tibetan sources even if he could not make it to Central Asia.

His Journeys in Tibet

With Moorcroft’ approval and financial support Csoma travelled to Zangla. There he spent more than a year mastering the Tibetan language with the help of his master, Sangs-rgyas-phun-tshogs, whom he called lama, and started to get acquainted with Tibetan literature.  He compiled a glossary of 30,000 words, which later served as a basis for his dictionary. For unknown reasons, he had to leave the monastery in Zangla in 1824, and went to the city of Subathu, where he checked in at the British military station. To his astonishment, the British did not know about his agreement with Moorcroft and were very distrustful – they suspected him of being a spy. After the British had made sure the Hungarian researcher had not been spying for either the Russian or the Sikh, and Csoma had managed to persuade the British government of the usefulness of his researches, he received a monthly stipend of 50 Rupees and was sent on his second journey.


In 1826 Csoma went to Tibet, where he continued his research in a lama monastery in Tetha, and then in Kanam from 1827 to 1830. He created the first Tibetan-English dictionary, compiled an English collection of Buddhist technical terms, and systemized Tibetan grammar. In 1830 he was sent to Calcutta by the Asiatic Society of Bengal, to systemize the vast number of Tibetan books sent by the ambassador of Nepal, Brian Houghton Hodgson, as a librarian. He was continuously publishing in the journal of the Society, the Asiatic Research. His two masterpieces, the Tibetan grammar and dictionary were published in 1834. He received several honors in this period: in 1833 he was elected a correspondent member of the Hungarian Society of Scientists and in 1834 he became an honorary member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

He set off on his last journey to Tibet in 1842.  His destination was the library of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, then the northern part of China – the land of Mongols and Uyghurs – but he got no farther than Darjeeling  in Sikkim, where he died of malaria.

Overviewing Csoma’s life, it may seem he drifted very far from his original objective, finding the original homeland of Hungarians, but the ultimate aim of his Tibetan researches was to find information about the origins of Hungarians. Although he did not manage to achieve his original goal, his arduous work resulted in creating a new discipline and exploring a culture hardly known before to the Western world.

Ármin Vámbéry

(Szentgyörgy,  19 March 1832–  Budapest, 15 September 1913)

Ármin Vámbéry was born in Szentgyörgy (Upper Hungary, now Slovakia) into a Jewish family originating from South Germany. Since in those days birth certificates did not have to be issued to Jewish residents, his exact date of birth is unknown; he posteriorly designated 19 March 1832 himself as his birthday. His father fell victim to the Hungarian cholera epidemic in 1831-32 and died before his son was born. When her mother remarried, the family moved to Dunaszerdahely. Vámbéry grew up in terrible deprivation, and beside going to school, he had to work from his childhood.  But it did not keep him from achieving excellent results at school.

He started his schooling at the Jewish school in Dunaszerdahely, then he was put into the Protestant elementary school. In the first two years of grammar school he studied in Szentgyörgy, and continued his studies in the Benedictine grammar school of Pressburg (Hungarian: Pozsony; now Bratislava in Slovakia) but he had to leave school before the final exams due to difficult financial circumstances. He chose self-study for the rest of his life, acquiring an extensive knowledge of literature and languages.

He moved to Pest in 1851 where, as in previous years, he tried to make his living as a tutor.  By his own account, he could speak seven languages then: German, Hungarian, Hebrew, Latin, French, Slovak and Italian.  Having left Pest, he took jobs at several different points of the country, and during this period he learnt Croatian and Russian. Encouraged by his own language knowledge, he went to Vienna to take on a clerical job, but his plan failed without proper recommendations and relevant work experience. Still, his journey to Vienna proved to be important regarding his later career:  he met Baron Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, the famous researcher of Turkish history and literature, who encouraged Vámbéry to intensify his Turkish studies.

After Vienna, he returned to Pest, and worked as a tutor at several points of the country. In this period he spent 10 to 12 hours a day on linguistics – learnt Turkish and Arabic – and he met, among others, János Garay, Mihály Vörösmarty, Mihály Teleki, Mór, Ballagi and Zsigmond Kemény,  who saw great potential in him.

Thanks to his talent and his liaisons, Vámbéry’s long-cherished dream of a  journey to the East became within reach in 1857,  owing to mainly the support of Baron József Eötvös. He went to Istanbul and spent 4 years there. He improved his knowledge of the Turkish language, got closely acquainted with the Muslim-Turkish culture and customs, and thanks to his knowledge and open-minded personality, soon he had free entrance to the highest circles of the Turkish political elite.  He was even interpreting for Sultan Abdul Mejit on one occasion. Having appropriate liaisons and experiences, he assisted the Foreign Office of the British Empire as a consultant.  The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, however, did not require such services. During his years spent in Istanbul he received the name Reshit (walking on the true path) Efendi; he then used that name in the Muslim world.

Between 1857-1861 he achieved significant results in his researches a well: he visited libraries on multiple occasions researching the Hungarian aspects of Turkish historical sources, in Istanbul he compiled a German-Turkish dictionary, and several of his writings – including several translations – were published in Hungarian journals.

He was elected a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in recognition of his work in 1861.  During his years in Istanbul his intention to search for the origins of the Hungarians by means of linguistics became deliberate. In the second half of the 19th century, the discourse embracing the prehistory of Hungarians was characterized by the “Ugric-Turk War”.  Of opposing opinions, Vámbéry advocated the Turkic origin, and went on his second journey to Asia in order to prove it.

Ármin Vámbéry

He returned to Istanbul in 1861 to prepare his journey to Central Asia. In 1862 he set off eastwards to Teheran joining a caravan. He disguised as a Sunni Turkish, and as such, he had to experience the hostility of Shiites. In Persia maintaining his pretenses, due to his excellent command of the language and his composure, saved his life. From Teheran, he travelled to the southern part of Persia – towards Ispahan and Shiraz –, from where he returned to the capital of present-day Iran in early 1863. In the spring of 1863 he joined a band of pilgrims and set off to his original destination, Central Asia, across the Turkmen Desert to Khiva, and then on his way back via Samarkand towards the western part of Afghanistan, where he turned south, and in Herat he joined a caravan heading for Meshed.  Eventually, he returned to Europe via Teheran and Istanbul. The representatives of the states of the old continent were greatly interested in his journey. The British and the Russians wanted information from him, since Vámbéry travelled across areas which were the targets of the expansion of these empires, but Vámbéry, in accordance with his political views, refused to meet the Russians.

The implications if Vámbéry’s results are very diverse:  he had outstanding achievements in the field of linguistics – Turkish philology –, ethnography and history, but he is also noted as a strategic analyst and a publicist. In 1865 he was granted professorship in the Department of Oriental Languages of the Royal University of Pest, where he lectured until his death. He participated in founding the Hungarian Geographic Society and he was its chairman in 1889-90. In 1884 he was awarded an honorary doctor title at Trinity College of Dublin.

In 1868 he married Kornélia Rechnitz-Arányi and had one child, Rusztem Vámbéry, who became a famous lawyer. Ármin Vámbéry died in Budapest, on 15th September, 1913. His tomb can be found in Kerepesi Cemetery.

Sir M. Aurél Stein

(Pest, 26 November 1862 – Kabul, 28 October 1943.)

Aurél Stein was born into an intellectual family of merchants and factory owners in Pest on 26 November 1862. He commenced his studies in Budapest, and with the scholarship of the Hungarian state, he studied arts, Indology and Iranistics, at the university of Vienna, Leipzig and Tübingen. He received his Ph. D. from the University of Tübingen, and later continued his post-doctoral studies in London, Cambridge and Oxford. He spent his compulsory military service at Ludovika Academy in 1885-1886, where he acquired surveying and cartographic skills, which proved to be very useful during his later expeditions.

From 1887 he was the Registrar of Punjab University in India, and taught Sanskrit. In addition to his linguistic activity, in summer he set off on minor expeditions to Kashmir to identify the venues included in the chronicles of Kashmiri rulers, gaining a foothold in the field of geography. The fact that his family knew Ármin Vámbéry well, who personally told secondary school student Aurel about his travels, also played a significant role.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, he shifted his attention toward archeology, because in those days, thanks to the prowls of treasure hunters, lots of written records of unknown origins were found in East Turkestan, the site and authenticity of which had to be verified.  He set off on his first expedition (1900-1901) with this goal in 1900, from Kashmir across the Hindu Kush and Tagdumbas Pamir to the region of Khotan – on the rim of the Taklamakan Desert -, where he examined the region from geographical, ethnographic, anthropological and linguistic aspects, on top of his archeological researches. Until 1916, he led two more archeological expeditions in Central Asia (1906-1908; 1913-1916), during which he uncovered the relics of the Silk Road. In addition to his archeological activity, he made accurate cartographic surveys of the areas he covered, filling lots of blank spots on the maps of the time.

He conducted his later researches in Iran, Syria, Transjordan and Kashmir. Stein continued his scientific work within the British Empire: he lived in India from the 1880s until his death, and worked in education, and later he was appointed as Inspector-General Of Education and Archaeological Surveyor of the Archaeological Survey of India. In 1912 he was promoted to Knight Commander for his service.  But he never forgot about his homeland, which he regularly visited until 1938 and had a close relationship with many figures of the Hungarian scientific life, including his close friend, Lajos Lóczy. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences elected him a member in 1895.

He worked actively all his life, and he died shortly before his 85th birthday, when his biggest dream was about to come true: he was given permission to carry out research in Afghanistan, in the territory of ancient Bactria. He died in Kabul on 26th October, 1943.

Lajos von Lóczy SR.

(Pressburg, 4 November 1849 – Balatonfüred, 1920. May 13.)

Lajos von Lóczy Sr. was born in Pressburg (Hungarian: Pozsony; now Bratislava in Slovakia ) into a noble family originating from Gömör county, where his parents fled running away from the Vlachs during the war of independence. After the war, they moved to Pécs and then back to Ópálos, where his father had acquired a vineyard.

He attended secondary grammar school in Arad (now Oradea in Romania) and from 1869 he studied geology at the University of Zurich from professors Escher von der Linth and Albert Heim. He usually spent school holidays in the Alps, where he collected fossils and studied  and mapped mountain folds. In 1874 he graduated as an engineer.

Having finished his university studies, he returned home and got a job in the Mineral and Fossil Repository of the National Museum. His outstanding professional performance raised the attention of his superior, Ferenc Pulszky, and when count Béla Széchenyi organised an expedition in Asia, Pulszky and  E. Suess geologist-professor in Vienna recommended Lóczy, who spoke several foreign languages and had academic qualifications, as a member of the expedition.

Although he achieved several significant professional results during his life, the Asian expedition earned him world fame at a young age. The expedition lasting from 1st  November 1877 until 1st May 1880 was led by Count Béla Széchenyi, and its members included Gábor Bálint linguist-ethnologist,  Gustav Kreitner, Austian cartographer, first lieutenant and Lajos von Lóczy geographer. The team embarked on a steam ship in Trieste, and they first went to Calcutta. Here, during his research in the library of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Lajos von Lóczy found the autobiography of Csoma de Kőrös, which was believed to be lost.

From Calcutta, the members of the expedition split, and the young geographer went to the Eastern Himlayas, where he also climbed the 4,423-metre tall Jelep Pass. Here he prepared the geological map of the border junction between Bhutan, Sikkim and Tibet, also called as Triplex. The most significant geoscientific achievement of the expedition, the discovery of the plate tectonics of the Himlayas is related to his research there. On the basis of his theory and his field experiences he concluded that the strata he called Transhimalayas were ranging to the north of the Himalayas. Later their existence was proven in practice by Swedish Orientalist Sven Hedin.

During the expedition, the team led by Széchenyi explored South China; from Shanghai they shipped to Hankou and from here they got as far as the Irravaddy Plain. They explored the eastern part of the Gobi Desert, adjacent to China, and conducted researches on the eastern banks of the Quing Hai Lake and around the Yellow River. They could not accomplish their complete plan to travel around entire Asia from east to west due to the turbulent situation in Turkestan, but – chiefly thanks to Lóczy’s work –  the expedition created memorable value. The scientific summary of the journey took almost 20 years. The book entitled Scholarly Results of the Eastern Asian Travel of Count Béla Széchenyi (1877-1880) was finally published in three plus one volumes in Hungarian in 1890 and in German in 1899. This work laid the foundation for the research into the geomorphology of Central Asia and West China.

After having returned home, he worked in the Hungarian National Museum until 1882, but in 1883 he became a geologist at the Hungarian Royal Geological Institute and worked on the geological mapping of the Mountains of the Banat region. Between 1908 and 1919 he was the director of the Hungarian Geological Institute and in this period the institution achieved a very high scientific level: it employed many young professionals, increased the number of the publications of the institution, and harmonised the work of geologists working in the same field, organising joint expeditions for them.

In 1886 the Joseph Royal University of Technology invited him to be the professor of geology, and in 1889 he started to lecture geography at the Science University of Budapest, where he was a lecturer for almost 30 years. In his courses, special emphasis was put on gaining practical experiences in addition to in-depth theoretical instruction. He organised several study tours in Hungary and abroad – for example, in Italy, Russia, Finland, Bulgaria –, in which a high number of foreign students also participated after a while. With his educational activity, he placed Hungarian geographical science in the international forefront. He educated such excellent professionals like geographers Count Pál Teleki, Jenő Cholnoky, Gyula Prinz and geologists István Vitális, Dezső Laczkó and Ferenc Nopcsa. In 1888 the Hungarian Academy of Sciences elected him a correspondent member.

His research into Lake Balaton is also outstanding in his career. This work was supported by 60 excellent professionals for almost three decades. The results of this extensive and in-depth research are summarised in his work entitled Results of the Scientific Study of Lake Balaton.  At the end of his life, he retreated to his estate by Lake Balaton.  He passed away on 13th May 1920, surrounded by his wife and his three children.

Ervin Baktay

(Until 1925: Ervin Gottesmann; Dunaharaszti, 24 June 1890 – Budapest, 7 May 1963)

His most important books:

  • On the Top of the World. Following the footsteps of Sándor Csoma de Kőrös in West Tibet (Budapest, 1930, 1934)
  • India I–II. (Budapest, 1931, 2000)
  • The Country of the Happy Valley. Travels in Kashmir (Budapest, 1934)
  • Wanderer of distant lands. Sándor Csoma de Kőrös in India and Tibet (Bp., 1934, 1960)
  • My years in India I-II. (Budapest, Révai, 1938., 1939.)
  • Book of astrology (Budapest, 1942, 1943, 1945,1989, 2000)
  • Wisdom of India (Budapest, 1943, 2000)
  • Art of India (Budapest, 1958, 1963, 1981)
  • Astrological prognosis (Budapest, 2001)
  • Exploring and Conquering India and Indonesia (Budapest, Révai, 1938)

Ervin Baktay painter, art historian, orientalist, astrologist, writer, literary translator. His father was Raoul Gottesmann, his mother was Antónia Alojzia Martonfalvi. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, then in Munich from Simon Hollósy. He served at the front in Word War I. He knew that József Ágoston Schöfft met Sándor Csoma de Kőrös on his journey in India and made a drawing of him.

In the early 1920s he tried to popularize Indian culture by publishing translations and books. Between 1926 and 1929, he studied Indian religions and culture in India. In 1928 he tracked down the places Sándor Csoma de Kőrösi once stayed at, and his relics. In 1929 he returned home, infected by malaria. Around the beginning of 1931 he founded an Indian tribe and established a camp first on the island of Kismaros, then in Verőce, opposite the ancient Roman ruins. It was kept after his death on 7th May, 1963. Between 1930 and 1944 he was one of the editors of the Földgömb (“Globe“ in Hungarian) magazine. In 1933 he received a Doctor of Humane Letters at the University of Debrecen. From 1946 until 1958 he was the deputy director of the Ferenc Hopp Museum of East Asian Art and a temporary lecturer at Eötvös Lorand University. In 1956-57 he made another study tour in India at the invitation of the Indian government: he was one of those seventeen non-Buddhist people who were invited to the series of monumental celebrations organized for the 2,500th anniversary of Buddha’s birth in 1956. In 1959 he participated in the preparation of the exhibition entitled The Art of Asia, organized in the Museum of Applied Arts.

After he retired, he gave lectures on the art of India in several foreign countries (e.g., U.K., Sweden). His sister was Marie-Antoinette Gottesmann, who married the son of the raja of Shimla, Umrao Sher-Gil; their daughter, Amrita Sher-Gil, became one of the greatest modern painters of India.

Jenő Cholnoky

(Veszprém, 23 July 1870. – Budapest, 5 July 1950)

Jenő Cholnoky was born in Veszprém, as one of the eight children of lawyer László Cholnoky and Krisztina Zombath. He went to secondary school in Veszprém and Pápa. He was interested in geography, but his father did not enroll him at the Science University but the University of Technology, because he did not want his son to become a poor teacher.

He graduated from the University of Technology with a degree in Hydraulic Engineering, and he got a job there as an assistant lecturer.  He met the world-famous orientalist and geographer Lajos von Lóczy in those days. Lóczy invited him to be his assistant in the Geography Department of the Science University in 1894, with which Chonoky’s career as a geographer commenced. This was a decisive step for Cholnoky’s later career, who is noted by posterity as an outstanding student of Lóczy. As a geographer, he could make good use of his engineering knowledge and his relevant drawing skills. His eastward travel was conducted in 1896, when he went on a study tour in China, on Lóczy’s recommendation and a scholarship. His mentor assigned him the task of exploring the delta region of the Chinese Plain. He had to discover the reasons why the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers shifted their beds, and its mechanism. As a result of his research work of almost two years, he prepared the hydrogeography of the delta, discovered a basalt plateau of 100,000 km2 in Manchuria, and collected lots of materials for ethnography. He made drawings of hydraulic buildings and the geomorphological characteristics of the area in his diary. He wrote a book about his journey in China, entitled In the Country of the Dragon.

Returning home from Asia he was promoted to senior lecturer at the Science University. In addition to philosophy, he obtained his second doctorate, and was habilitated as the associate professor of descriptive geography. In 1905 he was appointed as the head of the Geography Department of the University of Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca in Romania), and he filled this position for 15 years. During his leadership, academic-level geography education reached a very high standard. In the meantime, he studied the physical geography of Transylvania in detail. In 1919 he had to flee from the occupying Romanians, moved back to Budapest, where, as a geographical expert, he was assigned as a member of the group preparing peace talks. In 1920 the Hungarian Academy of Sciences elected him a correspondent member, and in 1921 he inherited the head of department position at the University of Budapest from Géza Czirbus. Owing to his hard work, the neglected department rose to an international level again, and such excellent geographers graduated as Béla Bulla, László Kádár or Andor Kéz. He retired in 1940 but remained active until his death. His scientific activity included hydrology and climatology as well as geography. Among others, he developed the classification of river section types, described the rules of movement in drift sand, and participated in the scientific study of Lake Balaton. He created outstanding value in the education of geography, too, since he published almost 50 books and nearly 1,000 scientific publications and publicity articles.


Cholnoky, the landscape painter

Author: Ráhel Czirják

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