“Few are the giants of the soul" - The British explorer and travel writer Freya Madeline Stark

31 January 1893, the British explorer and travel writer Freya Madeline Stark was born in Paris.

“Few are the giants of the soul who actually feel that the human race is their family circle.“ (Freya Stark)

A photo of Freya Stark, taken at some time during the 1930s

Many of us heard at least tale or three from One Thousand and One Nights when we were children and all of us who did dreamed like little Delacroixs or Byrons or Kiplings or at least Rider Haggards or Karl Mays and dreamed up dreams from the East, but only few read the whole thing, learned Arabic and Persian afterwards and set forth to go on adventures there. But young Freya, daughter of a painter from Devon and an Italian mother, a scion of Germano-Polish aristocracy, suited the action to the words she read at the age of 9. And she was one remarkable child, often ill and reading while she was confined to the house of her grandmother, where she grew up near Genoa, got her hair caught in a machine at the age of 13 while she was visiting a factory, an accident that left her face slightly disfigured, serving as a nurse in the Great War and finally going East of Suez for the first time in 1927 when she was 34.

Freya Stark, east of Suez on a camel, some time during the 1930s

She returned to Damascus in 1929, travelled to Bagdad and finally to the back then hardly known ruins of the castles of the Nizari Ismailis, the legendary Assassins, in Persia, wrote a book and became quite famous as an explorer, went to Jordan, Yemen and finally Egypt during the 1930s, worked for the British Ministry of Information in situ when the next war broke out and doing her part to persuade the Arab world to stay at least neutral in the conflict, wrote a couple of best-selling travel reports about her ventures into Turkey afterwards and finally visited Afghanistan and climbed the Himalayas when she was in her seventies. Freya died at the age of 100 in Asolo in Italy in 1993, by then she had been created a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, in 1972, but was largely forgotten as an author.

Posing with members of the Herki Clan in Kurdistan

Her books offer a very personal view into worlds usually concealed from tourists or about places that are no more travelled today than they were during the decades between the World Wars and the 1950s and ‘60s and often have a focus beyond the picturesque landscapes and ruins and Bedu chiefs, on the common people, especially on women behind the scenes of great political affairs as provoked, backed and described by the likes of T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell or more recent observers.

And more, including a short interview from 1977 on: