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J. J. Friedrich W. Parrot (1791-1841)
Jan 03, '22

J. J. Friedrich W. Parrot (1791-1841) was a German naturalist and traveler.

Friedrich Parrot

Johann Jacob Friedrich Wilhelm Parrot (14 October 1791 – 15 January [O.S. 3 January] 1841) was a Baltic German naturalist, explorer, and mountaineer, who lived and worked in Dorpat (today Tartu, Estonia) in what was then the Governorate of Livonia of the Russian Empire. A pioneer of Russian and Estonian scientific mountaineering, Parrot is best known for leading the first expedition to the summit of Mount Ararat in recorded history.

Early Career

Born in Karlsruhe, in the Margraviate of Baden, Parrot was the son of Georg Friedrich Parrot, the first rector of the University of Dorpat (today the University of Tartu) and a close friend of Tsar Alexander I. He studied medicine and natural science at Dorpat and, in 1811, undertook an expedition to the Crimea and the Caucasus with Moritz von Engelhardt. There he used a barometer to measure the difference in sea level between the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. On his return he was appointed assistant doctor and, in 1815, surgeon in the Imperial Russian Army. In 1816 and 1817, he visited the Alps and Pyrenees. In 1821, he was professor of physiology and pathology, then in 1826 professor of physics at the University of Dorpat.

Conquest of Ararat

After the Russo-Persian War of 1826–28, Mount Ararat came under Russian control by the terms of the Treaty of Turkmenchay. Parrot felt that the conditions were now right to reach the peak of the mountain. With a team of science and medical students, Parrot left Dorpat in April 1829 and traveled south to Russian Transcaucasia and Armenia to climb Ararat. The project received full approval from Tsar Nicholas I, who provided the expedition with a military escort.

On the way to Russian Armenia, Parrot and his team split into two parts. Most of the team traveled to Mozdok, while Parrot, Maximilian Behaghel von Adlerskron, and the military escort Schütz traveled to the Manych River and the Kalmyk Steppe to conduct further research on the levels between the Black and Caspian Seas. The two teams reunited at Mozdok and moved south, first to Georgia, then to the Armenian Oblast. An outbreak of plague in Russian Armenia and the vicinity of Erivan (Yerevan) delayed the expedition and the team visited the eastern Georgian province of Kakheti until it subsided. They then traveled from Tiflis to Etchmaidzin, where Parrot met Khachatur Abovian, the future Armenian writer and national public figure. Parrot required a local guide and a translator for the expedition. The Armenian Catholicos Yeprem I assigned Abovian to these tasks.

Accompanied by Abovian, Parrot and his team crossed the Arax River into the district of Surmali and headed to the Armenian village of Akhuri (modern Yenidoğan) situated on the northern slope of Ararat 4,000 feet (1,200 m) above sea level. Following the advice of Harutiun Alamdarian of Tiflis, they set up base camp at the Monastery of St. Hakob some 2,400 feet (730 m) higher, at an elevation of 6,375 feet (1,943 m). Parrot and Abovian were among the last travelers to visit Akhuri and the monastery before a disastrous earthquake completely buried both in May 1840. Their first attempt to climb the mountain, using the northeast slope, failed as a result of lack of warm clothing.

Six days later, on the advice of Stepan Khojiants, the village chief of Akhuri, the ascent was attempted from the northwest side. After reaching an elevation of 16,028 feet (4,885 m), they turned back because they did not reach the summit before sundown. Accompanied by Abovian, two Russian soldiers, and two Armenian villagers, Parrot reached the summit on the third attempt at 3:15 p.m. on 9 October 1829. Abovian dug a hole in the ice and erected a wooden cross facing north. He picked up a chunk of ice from the summit and carried it down with him in a bottle, considering the water holy.

On 8 November, Parrot and Abovian climbed up Lesser Ararat. Parrot was impressed with Abovian's thirst for knowledge and, after the expedition, arranged for a Russian state scholarship for Abovian to study at the University of Dorpat in 1830.

Parrot, Dr. Friedrich: Journey to Ararat. With Map and Wood Cuts. Translated by W. D. Cooley. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1846 (1st Amer ed). 12mo, 389pp + 10pp ads, foldout map, 4 plates, several text woodcuts, Appendix. Parrot was a professor of Natural Philosophy at the Universiy of Dorpat in Estonia. This is an account of an expedition he led in 1829-30 through the Caucasus of Georgia, Armenia and Turkey in which he made the first ascent of Mount Ararat; included are many scientific observations. Parrot provided detailed descriptions and scientific observations of all the places they stopped, including an excellent account of Armenia. T is an extensive record of his arriving at Mount Ararat and his ascent. Parrot proved that the elevations of the Caspian Sea and the Black sea were equal.


September 27, 1829: Friedrich Parrot Reaches the Summit of Mount Ararat

Mount Ararat is not an easy mountain to climb. Today, nevertheless, we hear of many people reaching its top. The first ascent happened 185 years ago this day, according to the Julian calendar that was in use in the Russian Empire (October 9 according to the Gregorian calendar already in use in the West).

J. J. Friedrich W. Parrot (1791-1841) was a German naturalist and traveler. He was born in Karlsruhe, and studied medicine and natural science at the University of Dorpat (now Tartu), in present-day Estonia, then part of the Russian Empire. In 1811, at the age of nineteen, he undertook an expedition to Crimea and the Caucasus with Maurice Engelhardt.

In 1815 he was appointed surgeon in the Russian army. He visited the Alps and the Pyrenees in 1816-1817. He became a professor at his alma mater, first of physiology and pathology (1821) and then of physics (1827).

Parrot undertook another trip, this time to Georgia and Armenia, in 1828. Eastern Armenia had been recently conquered by the Russian Empire after the Russo-Persian and Russo-Turkish wars of 1826-1828.

His aim was to reach the summit of Mt. Ararat (16,945 feet). He established his base camp in Arguri (Akori), and set to his mission. It was not an easy task, especially in those days when mountaineering was not well-developed. He made two attempts, and he barely escaped a deadly fall in one of them.

The third was the charm. This time, too, the climb was difficult. “The newly fallen snow which had been of some use to us in our former attempt, had since melted, from the increased heat of the weather, and was now changed into glacier ice, so that notwithstanding the moderate steepness of the acclivity, it would be necessary to cut steps from below,” he wrote.

A sketch of Mt. Ararat and the Monastery of Holy Etchmiadzin in the foreground from Parrot's book, Journey to Ararat.

Finally, on September 27, 1829, after overcoming a violent snowstorm, “before my eyes, now intoxicated with joy, lay the highest pinnacle (...) and at about a quarter past three (...) we stood on the top of Mt. Ararat," he wrote. Parrot and his five companions, two of them students from the University of Dorpat, had made the first modern ascent of the mountain where it is traditionally held that Noah’s Ark had come to rest. He did not claim to see the rests of the ark, considering that the ice was 300 feet thick.

The climbers remained 45 minutes on the peak. A deacon from Holy Etchmiadzin, who had made the ascent in his habit, was among his companions; he planted the cross they had brought and then filled a flask with Ararat ice. After a prayer meeting, Parrot poured a libation for patriarch Noah.

The ascent was an event of importance, despite Armenian assurances that Ararat was unconquerable: “Put an Armenian on the summit of Ararat and he will still cling to the idea that it is unconquerable,” wrote Parrot. However, even more important for the history of Armenia culture was the encounter of Parrot with the deacon from Holy Etchmiadzin. The latter was no other than twenty-year-old Khachatur Abovian (1809-1848), a founding name of modern Armenian literature. Parrot was impressed by the intelligence of the young Armenian and made arrangements so he could enter the University of Dorpat. Abovian would stay six years at the university (1830-1836), which would become a magnet for Armenian students throughout the nineteenth century; his period of studies would be crucial in his life and his literary production. His protector would pass away five years after Abovian’s graduation.

Parrot wrote about the climb in a book in German, also translated into English (Journey to Ararat), but he was greeted with skepticism. Less than half a century later, British historian and explorer James Bryce would climb Ararat again and vindicate Parrot.

University of Tartu

The University of Tartu (UT; Estonian: Tartu Ülikool, Latin: Universitas Tartuensis) is a university in the city of Tartu in Estonia. It is the national university of Estonia, and the only classical university in the country, and also its biggest and most prestigious university. It was founded under the name of Academia Gustaviana in 1632 by Baron Johan Skytte, the Governor-General (1629–1634) of Swedish Livonia, Ingria, and Karelia, with the required ratification provided by his long-time friend and former student – from age 7 –, King Gustavus Adolphus, shortly before the king's death on 6 November in the Battle of Lützen (1632), during the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648).


Tartu (Estonian pronunciation: [ˈtɑrtˑu], South Estonian: Tarto) is the second-largest city in Estonia, after the political and financial capital, Tallinn. It is 186 kilometres (116 miles) southeast of Tallinn and 245 kilometres (152 miles) northeast of Riga, the capital of Latvia. Tartu lies on the Emajõgi (‘Mother river’), which connects the two largest lakes in Estonia, Lake Võrtsjärv and Lake Peipus. The city is served by Tartu Airport.


Jan 03, '22
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