Una lettera di Paolo Bajnotti a Cristoforo Negri nel contesto dell’esplorazione del Mar Morto nel XIX secolo
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A letter in the archives of the Italian Geographical Society in which Paolo Bajnotti, an italian diplomat who had resided in Egypt, informs Cristoforo Negri about his trip to Palestine in 1869, before moving to Galaz for a new assignment, and about how he visited the Dead Sea thanks to the guidance of a Franciscan scholar who reported that he had personally observed that over the last ten years the level of the Dead Sea had dropped by about 95 cm, provides the opportunity for a historical overview of the exploration of the Jordan Valley from Lake Tiberias to the Gulf of Aqaba during the 19th century. What might seem to be a mere curiosity is in fact part of a very significant issue that was controversial among the geographers and cartographers of the time, as is clearly shown in Negri’s speech at the meeting of the Società Geografica Italiana on March 13th 1870. The level of the Dead Sea and the level of the Sea of Galilee, the resulting difference in height that the River Jordan has to cover with a significant average gradient, the lack of a rise in the level of the Dead Sea despite the absence of an estuary were questions that in the mid-19th century were still waiting for an answer supported by scientific data and free of pious or pseudo-scientific overtones. A numerous series of expeditions - some improvised, others well organized - gave some answers to these issues, removing any doubt and establishing that the entire hydrologic basin was significantly below the level of the Mediterranean, that the Jordan did not have a strong slope because it was very meandering, and that the Dead Sea’s level was regulated by the strong amount of evaporation that occurred throughout the year.