Traveler, Scholar, Political Adventurer
A Transylvanian Baron
at the Birth of Albanian Independence.
The Memoirs of Franz Nopcsa
Edited and translated from the German
by Robert Elsie
Central European University Press, Budapest & New York 2014
xiii + 227 pp.
The Austro-Hungarian aristocrat of Transylvanian origin, Baron Franz Nopcsa (1877-1933), was one of the most adventuresome travelers and scholars of south-eastern Europe in the early decades of the twentieth century. He was also a palaeontologist of renown and a noted geologist of the Balkan Peninsula.
The Memoirs of this fascinating figure of Albanian and Balkan scholarship deal mainly with his travels in the Balkans, specifically in the remote and wild mountains of northern Albania, in the years from 1903 to 1914. They thus over the period of Ottoman rule, the Balkan Wars, Albanian Independence and the outbreak of the First World War. Nopcsa was a keen adventurer who hiked though the regions of northern Albania where no foreigner had ever been. He got to know the natives well, learned their language and their way of life, and, with time, became a leading expert in Albanian studies. He was also deeply involved in the politics of the period, often to the frustration of the Ballhausplatz, the Austro-Hungarian foreign ministry. In 1913, Nopcsa even offered himself as a candidate for the vacant Albanian throne.
The Introduction also tells of Nopcsa’s tragic death: he shot his Albanian secretary and partner before killing himself. The Memoirs themselves reveal some references to his homosexuality for those who can read between the lines.