Alexander of Humboldt, the second discoverer

Alexander of Humboldt, the second discoverer

Heritage & Traditions

Alina Gómez

Considered one of the founders of modern geography, the eminent German philosopher and naturalist Alexander of Humboldt made two stays in Cuba that, although brief, were momentous to the point of being considered the second discoverer of the island.

In 1799 he undertook a voyage of exploration to American lands: Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico and finally the United States, with results that surpassed all his expectations, and those of his companion and colleague, botanist French Aimé Bonpland.

Measuring, deducing and correlating everything, from the climatological and astronomical elements, the relief, the quality of the waters and the movement of it were edges of his investigative work. In addition, capturing and communicating the impression that a splendid nature conferred on the senses, and interpreting in a revealing way the social events and the way of relating to each other of the inhabitants of the different places through which he passed were also the object of his acute observation and of his very provocative opinions.

His itinerary and stay in Cuba began on December 19, 1800 and lasted until March 15, 1801, when he traveled to Cartagena de Indias. Three years later, - coming from the mainland - he revisited the island in a second and very brief stay that ran from March 14, 1804 to April 29 of that same year.

He toured the walled city of Havana and its bay full of boats and several surrounding towns. On his journey he walked Guanabacoa and its hill, the Güines plain and the fiahermen’s town of Batabanó, and the then flourishing town of Trinidad.

His book Political Essay on the Island of Cuba, published in Paris in 1826, contains the result of his notable contributions to the knowledge of the Cuban natural environment, hardly recognized in the European scientific literature, and his erudite observations on culture, society and its institutions.

Due to the criticism that the work encloses against the slave thinking of the time and its entire system of exploitation in the Antilles and in other regions of the world, the colonial authorities of the island prohibited its distribution and reproduction.

That is why the first Cuban printing of such a significant book did not see the light in the country until 1930, when the prominent intellectual Fernando Ortiz prepared and gave to the press one of the most complete editions of this known bibliographic jewel.

More than two centuries after the presence of Alexander of Humboldt in Cuba, proposing to walk the places that appear in his work, either due to the mere fact of enjoying the landscape, natural or human, or by discovering analogies or transformations, is a deserved tribute to this distinguished explorer, and quite an adventure.