Freya Stark (31 January 1893 – 9 May 1993), was an English-Italian explorer and writer. During her travels in the Middle East and Afghanistan she wrote more than twenty books, but also several books and autobiographical essays. She was one of the first non-Arab people to cross the southern Arab desert.
Stark was born on 31 January 1893 in Paris, where her parents studied art. Her mother, Flora, an Italian of Polish-German descent; her father, Robert, an English painter from Devon, spent most of her childhood in northern Italy, supported by the fact that Pen Browning, a friend of her father’s, had bought three houses in Asolo. Her mother’s grandmother lived in Genoa.
Her parents’ marriage was unhappy from the beginning and they broke up early in Freya’s youth. Biographer Jane Fletcher Geniesse – quoting Freya’s cousin Nora Stanton Blatch Barney – said that Freya’s biological father was “a young man rich in an important New Orleans family” called Obediah Dyer. It is not known whether Stark herself knew; she did not mention it in any of her writings, including her autobiography.
By 1931, she had made three dangerous walks in the western desert of Transylvania, parts of which had never been visited by a Westerner before, and had found the valleys of the murderers (Hashashin). She describes these explorations in the Assassin’s Valleys (1934). She received the Back Award from the Royal Geographical Society’s Back in 1933.
In 1934, Freya went down to the Red Sea to Aden to start a new adventure. Only a handful of Western explorers ventured into the region, but never as far or as far as they had. Their goal was to reach the ancient city of Shabwa, which would become the capital of the Queen of Sheba. However, during the journey she became seriously ill. After contracting measels, she had to be taken to a British hospital in Aden. Although she had never been to Shabwa, she was able to travel a lot and share many experiences. Freya also returned to the region for other trips. During these trips she finds slavery which, according to a New York profile, gives her a “difficult moral situation”.