The Lictor of the Migiurtinia

         Like a Roman lictor the lighthouse still guards the entrance of the Red Sea, and faithfully discharges its duty to warn the passing ships of the danger of the crouching-lion-shaped treacherous cape. The Fasces of the Lictors at the tip of the Horn of Africa? Why? That is what Italian photoreporter Alberto Alpozzi wondered on that July of 2013. 
        He was flying along the Somali coast as an observer on an Italian Navy's AB 212 helicopter engaged in the suppression of piracy, when the aircraft reached Cape Guardafui at the easternmost point of the Migiurtinia. When the ruins of the most unique lighthouse in the world came into view, for the young Italian reporter it was the beginning of a one year long research work, that traced the historic facts leading to the building of the lighthouse back to the opening of the Suez Canal. 
         The result was a very interesting book entitled: Il faro di Mussolini (Mussolini's Ligthouse). The following is an excerpt from the book that recounts the aerial exploration of the Migiurtinia conducted in 1928 under the leadership of the Italian governor of Somalia. (After all, this blog was originally an aviation blog). Many many thanks to J.J.P. for reviewing the English text. 

         Your comments will be greatly appreciated.
         L. Pavese

 The Aerial Exploration of the Migiurtinia.
 Di Alberto Alpozzi. Translated by Leonardo Pavese

From the time the Crispi lighthouse began operations, until 1928, there was no notable recorded news about Cape Guardafui — except for a few sporadic native attacks against it — when Governor Guido Corni, recounted the old dangers and the legends of the Cape; which he explained were all in the past, thanks to “the installation at the tip of the Cape of the much-wished-for lighthouse.”
Nevertheless, Governor Corni — the only civilian governor the colony would ever have — was not really convinced that the exceedingly sad reputation of that stretch of the Somali coast was really deserved. He decided to set out and explore the region from the air — from the 8th to the 20th of October 1929 — to investigate its characteristics.

The mountains of the Migiurtinia from the cockpit 

It was decided then to set up airstrips and refueling points along the planned route, in places where there weren’t yet any suitable landing strips: Obbia, Gallacaio, Callis, Bender Cassim (today’s Bosaso), Alula e Hafun.
It was to be a flight of about 3000 kilometers (1864 miles), taking off from Mogadishu towards Bosaso, via Gallacaio, then Alula and proceeding east to the position of the Crispi lighthouse and the false Cape of Guardafui; lastly, heading back south to Hordio and returning to Mogadishu via Obbia. 
The exploration promoted by Governor Corni was going to be very useful for the orography of a region that had never been overflown before, and to provide a precise assessment of the extension and the borders of British Somaliland. The flight was accomplished by a squad of IMAM Romeo Ro.1 (license built Fokker C.V-E’s) piloted by Captain Loro and Warrant Officers Bettega and Fasoli, who would take on the Governor as an observer. Another member of the group was photographer Carlo Pedrini, the head of the Studies and Propaganda Office of the Royal Photo-Cinematographic Laboratory of Mogadishu who would document the endeavor.

An IMAM Ro.1 

The expedition, especially the segment of the flight between Alula and Hordio, was also thoroughly described by Governor Corni himself in his 1937 book Somalia Italiana, when, flying over Cape Guardafui at about 4500 feet, Corni analyzed the effects of the microclimate of the area:
“The abnormality of the clouds of this area, which is in contrast with the clear and calm surrounding atmosphere, immediately strikes the observer and can be explained by the considerable difference in temperature between the normally calm and warm waters of the Gulf of Aden and the stormy waters of the Indian Ocean.
“In fact, while the temperature of the ocean in the summer months measures about C 20° to 25°, the temperature beyond the Cape of Guardafui (in the Gulf of Aden and at the latitude of Alula) often exceeds C 35°, 40° and causes great evaporation.
“The great masses of water vapor, that reach up to 6000 feet and come in contact with the colder rock of the high mountains, condense in clouds which are blown by the wind and descend below the crests of the mountains, reach the Ocean and create a low layer of thick and widespread fog near the coast. Cape Guardafui also remains totally obscured by it, and only the 2400 feet high mountain of Ras Senaghef emerges from it.

“The shipwrecks of old should be attributed to this strange phenomenon, which is more evident when the south-west Monsoon is blowing — that is, in the months of June, July and August — when the Indian Ocean is cooler and rougher.
“Today, besides the lighthouse at Cape Guardafui, in the small village of Tohen, half way between the capes, there also operates with great reliability the new radio-goniometric station and the ships can navigate in total safety after having determined their precise position.
“The usefulness of the radio station, that has often received the praise of many foreign shipping companies, is demonstrated by the fact that during the months of the north-east monsoon, that is, between November and March, the number of ships that ask for their bearing varies just between three and four per month, while in the months of the stronger south-west monsoon that number reaches up to 170 to 180 monthly and sometimes exceeds 200.

The Cape, as seen from the Indian Ocean. The metallic trellis of the first lighthouse is visible on the top.


“But besides the already-mentioned climatic phenomenon of the coastal fog, it is necessary to point out that the navigation near Cape Guardafui is also made more difficult by the miscalculations caused by the various sea currents of the Ocean.
“These currents, that can reach the speed of seven or eight knots, and change direction in relation to the season and the wind, contribute very much to the drifting of the ships, especially those vessels approaching from the east which enter the fog banks and cannot determine their position precisely in relation to the coast, just when even a small mistake could be fatal.”

Photos taken on the day the steamer Chodoc sailing back from the Far East shipwrecked off Cape Guardafui in July 1905. The top photograph shows some of the 600 passengers and crew in front of one of the local Somali boats used in the rescue. The beached Chodoc is visible in the background (center left). The other photos shows scenes on the beach soon after the shipwreck. The passengers were picked up two days later by the Russian transport ship Smolensk. The photos, most likely taken by a passenger or a crewman, were published in the French magazine L'Illustration.

After its take-off from Hordio, at 06:45 of October 16, 1928, the flight of Ro.1’s overflew Cape Guardafui, as it was diligently reported in the January 1928 issue of the Italian magazine Rivista Aeronautica:
“Having passed the tall tower of the lighthouse, with its brown shape and the two little cubes of the sailors’ houses and the observation post, the aeroplanes doubled the cape with its peculiar sleeping lion shape and, after flying over the intermediate sandy bay — which in the past was the scene of the Migiurtinian acts of piracy against the many wrecked steamships — the aircraft also flew past the Ras Scenaghef, the infamous false Cape Guardafui which even from the air looks almost identical to the true one.
“A little to the south there also works perfectly the radio-goniometric station annexed to the lighthouse, which communicate to the ships their precise position and points to the right route to double that treacherous promontory.”
The Rivista Aeronautica’s article continues and refers to the lighthouse directly:
“Since it will be soon necessary to replace the tower of the lighthouse — which is an iron trellis that is deteriorating more each passing day due to the action of the atmospheric elements — there will be built, at the tip of the rocky point, a masonry tower in the shape of the Fasces of the Lictors, the symbol of the new Italy, to point the way to the 700 to 800 ships of every country that double Cape Guardafui every month, thanks to the genius of Gugliemo Marconi.”
Before flying over the tip of Cape Guardafui, Mount Rugna, Governor Corni landed in Alula on October 14. There he inspected the harbor and arrived at the inevitable conclusions that greatly displeased the Britons:
“Due to its very fortunate location, on the only route to and from eastern Asia and Africa and Australia, Malaysia, Polynesia and New Zealand, Alula would be a perfect support base for transiting steamships. For the plan to become a reality, of course, we should build storage facilities of coal and oil in this most important harbor.”
The exploration flight headed then to the peninsula of Hafun (Dante)-Hordio, where the salt extraction plant of the Società Migiurtinia was located. Then, because of the lack of landing airstrips at Bender Beila and Eyl, the Governor boarded the Italian Royal Ship Lussin with destination Obbia. He then departed from Obbia with the complete squad, to return to Mogadishu.

Governor Corni overflies Italian Royal Ship Lussin

Governor Corni was the first to fly over the Migiurtinia, but he wasn’t the only one to overfly and explore the new Italian colony from the air.
In 1933, the already-mentioned Bernardo Valentino Vecchi published the book Migiurtinia about his trip with an automobile from Mogadishu to Bender Cassim and then Dante, near the salt extraction ponds. From Dante, Vecchi made a return flight that took him also over Cape Guardafui.
Like Corni, Vecchi also made the flight on a Romeo Ro.1 from the airfield of Hordio:
“It’s seven o’clock when our aircraft launches thunderously and with rage on the sandy leveled flat, and after a minute we are already high over the sparkling checkerboard of the salt ponds […]
“Every now and then we encounter a few clouds, stratocumuli, as the masses of vapor that are found between seven hundred and one thousand meters are called in aviation jargon; while the cirri are the ones near three thousand meters. 
“Seven fifty a.m. There is Cape Guardafui. We descend and, like at Hordio and Bargal, assisted by my pilot who very skillfully puts the aircraft in a propitious attitude, I take a few pictures.
“We are right above the sheer rocky cliffs that plunge into the sea one thousand feet below. At the top of it there is the lighthouse which we circle at a very low altitude, while the keepers who climbed to the small balcony wave their arms frenetically with enthusiasm for that flash visit from the sky to their hermitage. But the lighthouse is already a black dot…” 


Il Faro di Mussolini, winner of the Premio Hombres 2015, is published by 
001 Edizioni




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