Friday, November 14, 2008

Mountains of the Moon

The concept of the Mountains of the Moon, as associated with Africa, originated with DIOGENES, a Greek merchant who, in about A.D. 50, traveled inland in East Africa and reportedly sighted a range of snowcapped mountains feeding two large bodies of water. The next century, PTOLEMY, a hellenized Egyptian living in the North African city of Alexandria and a renowned geographer, produced an early map of Africa on which a group of mountains south of the EQUATOR were identified as Lunae Montes, or “Mountains of the Moon,” and wrote about them as the source of the NILE RIVER.

The source of the Nile was not determined for centuries. In 1613, PEDRO PÁEZ, a Spanish missionary sent out by Portugal, reported that the source of the Blue Nile, one of the two branches converging into the great river, was Lake Tana in the mountains of Ethiopia, a discovery corroborated by Scotsman JAMES BRUCE in 1770. Then, in 1858, Englishman JOHN HANNING SPEKE theorized that the source of the White Nile, the main branch, was Lake Victoria, confirmed by Anglo-American SIR HENRY MORTON STANLEY in 1875. A decade later, in 1889, Stanley and MEHMED EMIN PASHA explored the Ruwenzori Mountains on the border of present-day Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was determined that the Ruwenzori were at least part of the watershed feeding the Nile, some streams flowing southward through Lake Edward and Lake George to Lake Victoria and to the Nile, and others flowing northward to Lake Albert and to the Nile. The range thus came to be associated with the fabled Mountains of the Moon.

The Ruwenzori Range consists of six mountains, including Mount Stanley, named after the explorer, with Margherita Peak, at 16,762 feet above sea level, the third highest summit in Africa. Mount Speke is named after John Hanning Speke; Mount Emin, after Mehmed Emin Pasha; Mount Baker, after SIR SAMUEL WHITE BAKER; and Mount Gessi, after Italian Romlo Gessi, who explored the Nile to Lake Albert in 1876. In 1906, LUIGI AMEDEO DI SAVOIA D’ABRUZZI completed the first ascent of Margherita Peak, naming it for Italy’s queen mother; he climbed five of the six peaks in the range as well. Mount Luigi di Savoia is named after him.

There is no way to prove that the Ruwenzori were in fact Diogenes’s and Ptolemy’s mountains. It is possible that Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and Mount Kenya, the second-highest, both closer to the Indian Ocean, were the mountains viewed by Diogenes and represented on Ptolemy’s map. Yet the name is widely used for the Ruwenzori.

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