emil holub
Culture & Science History

The extraordinary life of Emil Holub

Did you know that one of the most world-renowned explorers was Czech? His name was Emil Holub and his field of expertise was Africa.

emil holubThough Emil Holub (1847, Holice – 1902, Vienna) obtained a medical degree, he didn’t become a settled physician like his father. Instead, young Emil whose full name was Emilian Carl Johann Holub, travelled to Cape Town, South Africa shortly after graduation. He then settled near and practiced medicine. Now for long though as his craving for new experiences led him to embark on a “scientific safari” where he started his large natural history collection collecting ethnographic material.

His third expedition which started in 1875 was probably the one he’s most known for. He not only reached the Zambezi river but was also the first person in the world to make a detailed map of the whole region surrounding Victoria Falls.

He was lucky to marry a girl who shared his passion (and in some ways was better equipped for travels than him, but more of her another time). Him, his wife Růžena Holubová (also known as Rosa Holub) ventured to Africa and mounted exhibitions. Sadly, it was the exhibitions that ruined him financially. Holub suffered several tropical diseases that shortened his life significantly. However, just as he was inspired by the diaries of the Scottish traveller David Livingstone, he too inspired many to further the explorations of the African continent.


  • If you ever travel to the east Bohemian town of Holice, you can visit the African Museum of Dr. Emil Holub to learn more about his expeditions. And if you turn more south and get to Livingstone, Zambia, you will see a statue of the Czech explorer which was unveiled in 2005.
  • There’s a genus from the family Pedaliaceae named after Holub – Holubia saccata – and it looks like this.
  • There are countless references to Holub’s life and work in literature, movies, music and even theatre plays.

Do you want to know more?

Holub wrote several books and luckily, some of them are available in English. In Seven Years in South Africa he writes about his adventures as well as research.


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