A Hungarian dervish in Central Asia

We hereby introduce the life and work of the famous orientalist, Ármin Vámbéry, worthy of an adventure movie.

The winter exhibition of the Ybl Buda Creative House introduces Ármin Vámbéry’s unique life and work as the second stage of its series entitled ‘Hungarians on the Silk Road’ by exhibiting objects related to the orientalist and his excellent Oriental manuscripts. The materials have been selected from the Oriental Collection of the library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences based on the work of curators dr Ágnes Kelecsényi and dr Nándor Erik Kovács. At the exhibition, realized with the support of the PAIGEO Foundation, visitors can become acquainted with the versatile Vámbéry, who was a globetrotter, an academician, a university lecturer, a founding member of the Hungarian Geographical Society, a successful writer and an internationally renowned political expert.


The life of the learned traveller (1832-1913) did not have an easy start; his family lived in extreme poverty, thus he had to work from his early childhood on in order to be able to study. He did not manage to continue his studies until the maturity exam, still, he later became a university professor. Due to his exceptional talent and high intelligence he could find mentors pretty soon, and they could lend him a helping hand in order to achieve his goals. 

In the course of his study trip to Istanbul in 1857, realized with the financial support of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, he managed to bring his Turkish into perfection, and this was the time when he established relationship with the innermost circles of the elite living in the Ottoman Empire, among whom he taught many to various languages. This is how he was given the name Resid efendi (instructor following the righteous path), which he himself also started to use.  

In 1861 as a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and with the financial support thereof he departed on the journey substantiating his fame, and leading to Central Asia that in those times was closed from the outer world and considered as life-threatening for Europeans. Vámbéry, who later became famous under the name of the “lame dervish” had so profound knowledge of the Islam and had such a perfect command of the Turkish language, that he could maintain his incognito during the entire journey. 

Even his lameness that developed as a consequence of a childhood illness could not prevent the dedicated orientalist from travelling to far-away lands, almost uncharted territories searching for the roots of the Hungarian language, where, besides the outstanding linguistic work, he also made significant ethnographic, cultural and geographical observations. 

Vámbéry was active in writing and working until the last days of his life. Over and above his academic works he conveyed his knowledge towards the general public in readable publications as well.  He was also active as a political journalist and as an international consultant. His last wish was to have a simple Reformed funeral service without speeches or elegies.

Have a look at the photos taken during the set-up of the exhibition
Have a look at the catalogue produced for the exhibition