This intriguing production is the original publisher’s proof from the Magyar Állami Földtani Intézet (Geological Institute of Hungary) of Franz Baron Nopcsa’s geological map of Northern Albania, being the first scientific geological map of that region. Nopcsa was a Hungarian nobleman, and a world-renowned paleontologist and geologist, who from 1905 to 1916, resided in Albania, where he became a leading authority on that nation’s history, culture and natural sciences, as well as a prominent member of its independence movement. He remains one of the biggest names in modern Albanian history. During his time in Albania, Nopcsa conducted the first scientific geological reconnaissance of the country, with a particular focus on the northern regions.
The present publisher’s proof consists of two distinct physical parts: first, the lower chromolithographed map is based directly on Baron Nopcsa’s original manuscript geological sketch map of the region; second, the transparent overlay, featuring a highly precise monochrome skeletal road map of the region, was intended to both contextualize Nopcsa’s geological mapping and to correct his relatively geodetic errors. For the resulting printed map, issued to accompany Nopcsa’s academic article, ‘Geographie und Geologie Nordalbaniens’, within the journal Geologica Hungarica, Series Geologica, vol. 3 (Budapest: Magyar Állami Földtani Intézet, 1929), these two components were combined, such that the information upon the overlay was integrated into the main map, which naturally necessitated some amendments to the positioning of certain features.
Northern Albania was a region of exceptionally rugged topography, and traditionally an area of great political instability, meaning that it was one of the last regions of Europe to be geologically surveyed. Nopcsa’s principally German-language map embraces all of Albania north of the Ishem River (labeled here as the ‘Mata’), a land dominated by the North Albanian Alps, and including the area around the major city of ‘Scutari’ (Shkoder), extending its overage a little ways into coastal Montenegro, as far as Bar.
The various geological zones are colour-coded, identified on the two legends on the right side of the map, the ‘Farbenerklärung [Explanation of Colours] (Sediment)’ notes 13 sedimentary zones; while the ‘Farbenerklärung (Eruptiva)’ notes 6 zones created by volcanic activity, plus noting the red lines that demarcates tectonic faults. The ‘Zeichenklärung’ (Explanation of Symbols), in the upper left corner, identifies: Horizontal Layers, Cliffs with gradients under 45 degrees, Cliffs with gradients over 45 degrees, Triangulation Points, Churches, Mosques, and Highpoints (with elevations in metres). Below, the ‘Häufigere Ortsbezeichnungen’ (Frequent Place Names) translates the Albanian words employed to denote: Mountains, Rivers, Creeks, Passes and Plains.
The present map dramatically surpassed any previously effort to express the complex geology of the region, forms a critical component of the modern geological mapping of the Balkans, in general.
Franz Baron Nopcsa: A Giant of Geology, Paleontology and Albanian History
Franz Baron Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás (1877 – 1933) was a world-renowned geologist, paleontologist, and the founder of modern Albanian studies. He was born into a noble Hungarian family near what is today Sântămăria-Orlea, Transylvania, Romania (then in Hungary). When dinosaur bones were discovered on the family estate, Nopcsa became transfixed by paleontology and his brilliant, virtuous talent led to his acceptance to the University of Vienna. He conducted groundbreaking fieldwork and wrote many papers that ensured that he became one of the most respected paleontologists in Europe by his late 20s. He was considered to be one of the founders of ‘paleobiology’, whereby he attempted to reconstruct how dinosaurs actually lived, not being content to simply assemble bones like many of his colleagues. Especially important was his assertion that some Mesozoic reptiles are warm blooded, a belief today shared by many scientists.
Nopcsa developed a deep love for Albania, which was then a rebellious province of the Ottoman Empire. Extremely mountainous and politically unstable, Albania was largely an enigma to outsiders. Nopcsa spent over a decade, from 1905 to 1916, in Albania, mastering its difficult dialects and being accepted as an insider by its clan leaders. Largely based in the northern part of the county, Nopcsa found the time and license to conduct the first ever scientific reconnaissance of the region’s geology, geography, paleontology, botany and ethnology, producing a vast corpus of notes and sketches. He published numerous articles and books on Albania on a wide variety of social and scientific topics, and today this oeuvre is considered to be the foundation of modern Albanian studies.
Nopcsa became a major figure in the Albanian independence movement during the Albanian Revolt of January to August 1912. He supplied intelligence and smuggled arms into the country, leading to the success of the revolution and the country’s independence. For a time, Nopcsa was on the shortlist to become the first modern King of Albania, and although he was passed over, he remained an influential figure. Intriguingly, while Nopcsa’s love for Albania was certainly sincere, it has since been revealed that he was all-along a spy for the Austro-Hungarian government.
Upon Austria-Hungary’s defeat and dissolution following World War I, Nopcsa lost his ancestral estates, in what became Romania. This placed him under financial pressure, compelling him to land a desk job, in this case, at the Hungarian Geological Institute. There he focused upon publishing his geological discoveries of Northern Albania. He issued a valuable article on the geology of the coastal regions of the county, ‘Zur Geologie der Küstenketten Nordalbaniens’, Mitteilungen aus dem Jahrbuche der kgl. Ungarischen Geologischen Anstalt (Budapest, 1925), and that same year collaborated with the Czech geologist Ernst Nowack on the Geologische Karte von Albanien (Berlin, 1925, reissued Vienna, 1928), which was the first general geological map of the county (although its coverage of northern Albania was not as comprehensive as that deatured upon the present map). The present publisher’s proof was prepared by the Geological Institute to form the first published scientific geological map focusing on Northern Albania, which was to appear within Nopcsa’s aforementioned article ‘Geographie und Geologie Nordalbaniens’ (1929).
Latterly, Nopcsa moved to Vienna with his Albanian secretary and lover, Bajazid Elmaz Doda, where they concentrated on studying fossils. Although Nopcsa sold his fossil collection to the Natural History Museum in London for a good sum, he fell into severe financial problems and became depressed. Sadly, in 1933, he shot Doda dead before taking his own life. However, he left behind many unpublished notes, sketches and maps, many of which eventually formed the core of the Albanological section of the National Library of Albania (Tirana).
References: Cf. (Re: the published map itself) Hermann Haack (ed.), Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilungen, vol. 75 (1929), p. 288; (re: Article) József Hála, Franz Baron von Nopcsa: Anmerkungen zu seiner Familie und seine Beziehungen zu Albanien – Eine Bibliographie (Vienna, 1993), no. 51 (p. 40).