Georgofili World

Newsletter of the Georgofili Academy

Florence meets Morocco: Jakob Gråberg från Hemsö and the “Antique Mauretania Tingitana”

In 1834 in Genoa, the presses of the Pellas printing works produced the Specchio geografico, e statistico dell’impero di Marocco by Jakob Gråberg från Hemsö.
The book was dedicated to His Royal and Imperial Highness Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany and summarized, although with additions and notes, the writings previously published in the review Antologia del Vieusseux and the five memoirs that Gråberg had sent to the Georgofili (as a correspondent member) from 1829 to 1833 about the “Ancient Mauretania Tingitana”, that is: Alcuni cenni dell’agricoltura nell’Impero di Marocco (An Outline of Agriculture in the Moroccan Empire), 2 August 1829;   Descrizione dell’aratro di cui si fa uso nell’Impero del Marocco (A Description of the Plough used in the Moroccan Empire), 7 February 1830;  Della pastorizia nell’impero di Marocco (On Sheep Farming in the Moroccan Empire), 7 March 1830; Cenni orografici e geologici dello impero di Marocco (An Orographic and Geologic Outline of the Moroccan Empire), 5 December 1830; Prospetto del commercio del Marocco e sue relazioni con i popoli dell’Italia (Statement on Morocco’s commerce and its relationships with the peoples of Italy), 4 August 1833.
Gråberg från Hemsö (Gannarve, Sweden 1776-Florence 1847) was a man in and of the world. His vast erudition and voracious “curiosity” spurred him, from an early age, not only to study languages (he knew Greek, Latin, French, English, German, and Italian as well as Arabic to perfection), ancient history, sacred history, geography, statistics, natural history, architecture, mechanics, mathematics, astronomy, but also to embark on a naval career, sailing all the seas and oceans. 
Once he stopped working at sea and settled in Genoa, his experience enabled him to publish a pocket marine dictionary in English and Italian, which was very successful and had numerous reprints in Genoa, Leghorn, Florence and Messina.
His stay in Genoa allowed him to take many trips to Tuscany (that he would later choose to make his home), in particular to Leghorn and to Florence, where he eventually settled. Among the various jobs he held was that as the Librarian of the Palatine Library in Palazzo Pitti.
From 1816 to 1822, he stayed in Morocco where he was first appointed secretary of the Consulate of Sweden and later vice-consul and proconsul.
It was precisely those years in which he resided in Africa that provided him with the material for his numerous dissertations and studies. His writings, filled with specific, detailed information, were the link that put two different worlds in contact, the Tuscany of the Lorraines and the ancient Empire of Morocco, an extraordinary country, with its perpetually snow-covered mountains, deserts, vast and fertile plains, and “healthy and beautiful” climate.
The Specchio geografico, e statistico is a document of great importance (as  well as the five memoirs kept in the Georgofili Academy’s historical archives). It represents a primary source of information still today. Organized in three parts, it addresses in detail the country’s chorography, ethnography, and nomography, with  fifteen extensive notes added to the text.                                                     
The book begins with a long list of those who, before the year 1000, had described and depicted Ancient Mauretania, and ends with a general index and an index of names. Accompanying the text are elegant lithographs based on drawings by Eleonora, Gråberg’s adopted daughter.
At the end of the book is the “Map of Moghrib-ul-Acsà, namely, the Morocco Empire with the most recent discoveries and combinations  put together and described by  Jacopo Gråberg of Hemsö”, from the hand of the engraver Girolamo Segato.
It is a true and proper treasure trove of information about a country and its people that, although quite close to the Italian peninsula, was, as Gråberg wrote in the introduction to the first memoir sent to the Georgofili, still very much behind the times: “The Empire of Morocco, the ancient Mauretania Tingitana, called Mogh’rib-el-Acsa’ by the Arabs, is separated from Europe by only a strait that can be crossed in less than an hour. But what a prodigious contrast in all ideas of people, civilization and customs! In a small part of the same morning, one can fancy oneself  transported to a new world, or at least back twenty centuries into the past”.
One curious piece of information (and perhaps it also seemed so to 19th-century readers), among the countless pieces contained in the book Specchio, concerns the way of doing business with the central African countries, “The market held in more than one place in Africa is curious. The Maghreb Mauritanians are on one side of a certain hill, with blacks from Berù and  from other banks of the Nile on the other side. The former display their goods on the hill and then stand aside. The blacks go and examine them and, under each item, they put the quantity of gold dust they want to offer and move away. The Mauritanians return and, if they consider the quantity of gold dust equal to the price of their goods, they take it and leave the goods. If they do not, they take their goods back and if the quantity of gold is not increased, the deal is broken and everyone leaves. Instead, if both sides are satisfied, the Mauritanians and the blacks congregate and travel together for fifteen days” (p. 145-146).
One remark: 2015 is the year of “encounters”, however it is also an incentive to look beyond, to think about such other kinds of encounters as the one that manages, through writing, to create a relationship between people and countries that are sometimes almost unknown. Travel accounts, of which the Specchio is an extraordinary example, were a tool to expand knowledge, thanks to which people of the past encountered the world, transforming the experiences of one or a few into a collective experience, one shared also by those who probably could never have gone on that journey.


Lucia Bigliazzi, Luciana Bigliazzi - biblioteca@georgofili.it

1658-J Graberg di Hesmo-tav pp60-61