Nicknamed" the last conquistador"," king of Patagonia"," alchemist"," dictator"," The Baron of Tiera del Fuego", the engineer-explorer Iuliu Popper was born in Bucharest on December 15th 1857 and died on June 5th 1893 of unknown causes in Buenos Aires, at the age of only 35. He graduated from the Polytechnics School and the School of Bridges and Roads in France, where he qualified as a mining engineer. Besides his attraction to science and technology Popper had a great talent for languages and he learnt to be fluent in no less than seven foreign languages. Shortly after finishing school the young engineer got his first job at the Suez Canal. He continued to travel around the Middle East and the Far East until 1881, when he came back to Romania. After spending a short period of time at home, he set out for Asia again, and made it to Alaska, the USA and Canada. From there he went to Cuba and Mexico where he found jobs as engineer, geographer, cartographer and journalist. In 1885 while in Brazil, Popper learnt about the gold rush in Tierra del Fuego and set out for Argentina where his Patagonian adventure was about to begin.
With support from a geological survey company Popper made it to Tierra del Fuego. Upon his comeback he presented the company with a convincing report and in 1886 he was sent back with the assignment to conduct ampler researches in the region. He was accompanied by another engineer and an entire team of experts in mining and metallurgy. His report was right, the sand on the coasts of Tierra del Fuego had more gold than Patagonia itself. Popper's team took a lot of photos, made measurements and drew up maps. In 1887 he made it to the gulf of San Sebastian where he built gold washing machines and barracks for the workers. The camp built by the Romanian explorer also included a building for the company's board. Popper managed to form a small force ready to deal with the adventurers attracted by the gold rush. Unfortunately, the company funding the enterprise went bankrupt and Popper had to return to Argentina in 1889. The Center for Studying the History of the Jews in Romania has acknowledged the personality of Popper through an exhibition, during which curator Anca Tudorancea presented a series of exhibits, some of which very special.
Anca Tudorancea:" What we have here are the magnified photos of the 1886 album, which was meant to illustrate the exploration of the Tierra del Fuego. This is actually the first photo report of the region and from the scientific, cartographic and geographic points of view a tremendous success achieved by the mining engineer Iuliu Popper. This album also includes a text of the scientific conference he held at the Argentinian Geographic Institute in 1887. Popper died young at 35, his last scientific initiatives being the exploration of Antarctica. Right on the day of his death he got the greenlight for an expedition in Antarctica. Iuliu Popper was the first Romanian to have travelled five continents. There are places in Argentina with Romanian names, like for instance Rio Carmen Sylva, Sierra Carmen Sylva, Urechea, Lahovary, Rosetti. These were the names given by Iuliu Popper."
In 1887, Popper wrote to Vasile Alexandrescu Urechia, the Secretary of the Romanian Geographic Society, about the satisfactions he had as an explorer, which were even more intense than the luring gold deposits:" I am lost for words in my attempt to describe the emotions I feel during the adventures I experience while on a trip, where the only guidance you can get is from the magnetic needle of a compass or the starry sky at night; the grandiose breathtaking views the visitor suddenly encounters, the chained orographic, hydrographic or geological phenomena we are witnessing, the varied flora and fauna miraculously popping up in places where no man has gone before - so many natural phenomena in this region where civilization is still in its infancy." Curator Anca Tudorancea has also referred to the complex personality of the explorer.
Anca Tudorancea:" Popper is a very interesting subject in all his aspects and at a certain point we must also deal with both negative and positive aspects. For instance, people want to know if he was blond or red hair. Because of stereotypes he is being represented as a red-haired individual but rubio means blonde and because in the past ten years of his life he spoke and wrote in perfect Spanish we must speak a little bit of Spanish to understand the Romanian Popper. He sent extraordinary letters to the Romanian Geographic Society, letters of great patriotism, in which he said 'I am Romanian, was born Romanian and am going to die Romanian.' Ironically he never got the Romanian citizenship because he was in the same situation as all those in the Jewish community. We owe him the Romanian names in Tierra del Fuego and that was an act of love for his native country, Romania, for its Royal House, the patron of the Geographic Society."
Iuliu Popper is present not only in Argentine's books of history and specialized articles, he inspired writers of literature, comics and films. A Chilean rock band is presently bearing his name.