The Long Road to Samarkand

I’ve been trying to catch up on some of my to-read pile, and I came to Corto Maltese: The Golden House of Samarkand by the amazing Hugo Pratt. Like every Corto Maltese adventure, the story is thick with historical references and exotic locations. In this particular story, Corto is on the hunt for the lost treasure of Samarkand, hidden somewhere in the Middle East by Alexander the Great. It is set in 1920, right at the onset of the Turkish-Armenian War, which causes a lot of problems for Corto throughout his journey.

Eastern Europe and the Middle East are very unfamiliar regions to me, as is the political history of these countries. Partway through the book, I realized that Corto was hopping from city to city and I had no context to where he was or what was happening. I needed to do some research.

My main goal was to track Corto’s movements through the countries, so I started plotting the route on Google Maps. Many borders, roads and city names are different now, so I had to research my locations to make sure I was in the right spot. Some of these points are my best guesses. Below is the map, and under are my notes about his route. Please keep in mind that I really don’t know anything about this stuff other than what I just Googled for this blog post. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong!

  1. Corto starts off in Rhodes, Greece where he finds the clue to the treasure (page 1).
  2. Corto sails to Tarsus, Turkey (p 26) where he gathers what he needs for his journey.
  3. Corto is kidnapped and taken to Van, Turkey (p 68). This is where the Turkish revolutionaries set up base. When Corto is there the war is just starting. The city ends up being completely razed after he leaves.
  4. Corto and his friends reach the Turkish/Russian/Armenian border (p 79). No city is mentioned by name, so I had to make my best guess based on where the borders were at the time. The closet city is Gyumri, Armenia.
  5. Corto and the gang make their way down to a small fortress in the mountains called New Alamuth (p 88). From what I can tell, this is near Maollem Kakyeh, the captial of the Alamut-e Sharqi District of Iran.
  6. Corto wants to cross the Afghan border, but he can’t do it through Iran, so he must board a boat at Baku, Azerbaijan (p 99) and cross the Caspian Sea to Krasnovodsk (p 108), now called Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan. This is a major tactical location for the Russians and it fell to the Red Army in 1920 which is what you see in this book.
  7. After the battle, they travel to Bukhara, Uzbekistan (p 131), where they believe the treasure is located. This is near to Samarkand where Corto’s friend, Rasputin, was incarcerated. Note that Corto never actually goes to Samarkand in this book.
  8. Corto realized that the treasure is actually in Kafiristan (p 140), along the path of Alexander the Great. This area is now called Nuristan, Afghanistan, and it is so remote that Google maps can’t even plot a way to get there! Talk about a good hiding spot!

In total (using the nearby city of Kabul instead of Nuristan on Google maps), Corto traveled about 4500 miles! If you travel by car, this would take you about 105 hours! Of course, this took Corto even longer as he was in vehicles from the 20s, and on a boat, and walking, and riding a donkey. This is possibly the most that Corto Maltese travels out of all of his adventures! What a wild ride!

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