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The Grand Tour was the traditional travel of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transit in the 1840s, and was associated with a standard itinerary. The tradition continued after rail and steamship travel made the journey less of a burden, and American and other overseas youth joined in. It served as an education rite of passage. Primarily associated with Britainmarker (particularly the British nobility and wealthy gentry), similar trips were made by wealthy young men of Protestant Northern European nations on the Continent.

The New York Times described the Grand Tour in this way:

The primary value of the Grand Tour, it was believed, lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionable society of the European continent. In addition, it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music. A grand tour could last from several months to several years. It was commonly undertaken in the company of a knowledgeable guide or tutor. The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance; as E.P. Thompson stated, "ruling-class control in the 18th century was located primarily in a cultural hegemony, and only secondarily in an expression of economic or physical (military) power."


Essentially, the Grand Tour was a scholar's pilgrimage to Romemarker, which was home to the Colosseummarker, considered one of the Wonders of the World, and Saint Peter's tomb. Catholic Grand tourists might be interested to visit the pilgrimage sites St. Thomas' body at Canterburymarker, and the Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral, along the way. These places were not only religious centers, but had been at various times magnets for artists, who won commissions for altarpieces or Royal portraits. Since medieval times, a tour to such places was considered essential for budding young artists to understand proper painting and sculpture techniques. The advent of the printing press and the spread of woodcuts and engravings from the 15th century onwards, had done much to popularize such trips, and following the artists themselves, the elite considered travel to such centers (outside of warzones of course) as necessary rites of passage.

In Britain, Thomas Coryat's travel book Coryat's Crudities (1611), published during the Twelve Years' Truce, was an early influence on the Grand Tour. Larger numbers of tourists began their tours after the Peace of Münster in 1648. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the term (perhaps its introduction to English) was by Richard Lassels (c 1603-1668), an expatriate Roman Catholic priest, in his book An Italian Voyage, which was published posthumously in Paris in 1670 and then in London. Lassels' introduction listed four areas in which travel furnished "an accomplished, consummate Traveller": the intellectual, the social, the ethical (by the opportunity of drawing moral instruction from all the traveller saw), and the political.

The idea of traveling for the sake of curiosity and learning was a developing idea in the 17th century. With John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) it was argued, and widely accepted, that knowledge comes entirely from the external senses, that what one knows comes from the physical stimuli to which one has been exposed, thus, one could "use up" the environment, taking from it all it offers, requiring a change of place. Travel, therefore, was necessary for one to develop the mind and expand knowledge of the world. As a young man at the outset of his account of a repeat Grand Tour the historian Edward Gibbon remarked that "According to the law of custom, and perhaps of reason, foreign travel completes the education of an English gentleman." Consciously adapted for intellectual self-improvement, Gibbon was "revisiting the Continent on a larger and more liberal plan"; most Grand Tourists did not pause more than briefly in libraries.

The typical 18th century sentiment was that of the studious observer traveling through foreign lands reporting his findings on human nature for those unfortunate to have stayed home. Recounting one's observations to society at large to increase its welfare was considered an obligation; the Grand Tour flourished in this mindset.
The Grand Tour not only provided a liberal education but allowed those who could afford it the opportunity to buy things otherwise unavailable at home, and it thus increased participants' prestige and standing. Grand Tourists would return with crates of art, books, pictures, sculpture, and items of culture, which would be displayed in libraries, cabinets, gardens, and drawing rooms, as well as the galleries built purposively for their display; The Grand Tour became a symbol of wealth and freedom. Artists who especially thrived on Grand Tourists included Pompeo Batoni the portraitist, and the vedutisti such as Canaletto, Pannini and Guardi. The less well-off could return with an album of Piranesi etchings.

The "perhaps" in Gibbon's opening remark cast an ironic shadow over his resounding statement. Critics of the Grand Tour derided its lack of adventure. "The tour of Europe is a paltry thing", said one 18th century critic, "a tame, uniform, unvaried prospect". The Grand Tour was said to reinforce the old preconceptions and prejudices about national characteristics, as Jean Gailhard's Compleat Gentleman (1678) observes: "French courteous. Spanish lordly. Italian amorous. German clownish." The deep suspicion with which Tour was viewed at home in England, where it was feared that the very experiences that completed the British gentleman might well undo him, were epitomised in the sarcastic nativist view of the ostentatiously "well-travelled" maccaroni of the 1760s and 70s.

After the arrival of steam-powered transportation, around 1825, the Grand Tour custom continued, but it was of a qualitative difference—cheaper to undertake, safer, easier, open to anyone. During much of the 19th century, most educated young men of privilege undertook the Grand Tour. Germany and Switzerland came to be included in a more broadly defined circuit. Later, it became fashionable for young women as well; a trip to Italy, with a spinster aunt chaperon, was part of the upper-class woman's education, as in E.M. Forster's novel A Room with a View.

Travel itinerary

The most common itinerary of the Grand Tour shifted across generation in the cities it embraced, but the tourist usually began in Dovermarker, Englandmarker and crossed the English Channelmarker to Ostendmarker, in Belgiummarker, Calaismarker, or Le Havremarker in Francemarker. From there the tourist, usually accompanied by a tutor (known colloquially as a "bear-leader") and if wealthy enough a league of servants, could rent or acquire a coach (which could be resold in any city or disassembled and packed across the Alps, as in Giacomo Casanova's travels, who resold it on completion), or opt to make the trip by boat as far as the alps, either traveling over the Seinemarker to Paris, or the Rhinemarker to Baselmarker.

Upon hiring a French-speaking guide, the tourist and his entourage would travel to Parismarker. There the traveller might undertake lessons in French, dancing, fencing, and riding. The appeal of Paris lay in the sophisticated language and manners of French high society, including courtly behavior and fashion. Ostensibly this served the purpose of preparing the young man for a leadership position at home, often in government or diplomacy.

From Paris he would typically go to urban Switzerlandmarker for a while, often to Genevamarker (the cradle of the Protestant Reformation) or Lausannemarker. ("Alpinism," or mountaineering, was a development of the 19th century.) From there the traveller would endure a difficult crossing over the Alps into northern Italy (such as at St. Bernard Pass), which included dismantling the carriage and luggage. If wealthy enough, he might be carried over the hard terrain by servants.

Once in Italy the tourist would visit Turinmarker (and, less often, Milanmarker), then might spend a few months in Florencemarker, where there was a considerable Anglo-Italian society accessible to traveling Englishmen "of quality" and where the Tribuna of the Uffizi gallerymarker brought together in one space the monuments of High Renaissance paintings and Roman sculptures that would inspire picture galleries dressed with antiquities at home, with side trips to Pisamarker, then move on to Paduamarker, Bolognamarker, and Venicemarker. The British idea of Venice as the "locus of decadent Italianate allure" made it an epitome and cultural setpiece of the Grand Tour.

From Venice the traveller went to Romemarker to study the ruins of ancient Rome. Some travelers also visited Naplesmarker to study music, and (after the mid-18th century) to appreciate the recently-discovered archaeological sites of Herculaneummarker and Pompeiimarker and perhaps for the adventurous thrilling ascent of Mount Vesuviusmarker. Later in the period the more adventurous, especially if provided with a yacht, might attempt Sicily (the site of Greek ruins) or even Greecemarker itself. But Naples or later Paestummarker further south was the usual terminus.

From here the traveller traversed the Alps heading north through to the German-speaking parts of Europe. The traveller might stop first in Innsbruckmarker before visiting Berlinmarker, Dresdenmarker, Viennamarker and Potsdammarker, with perhaps some study time at the universities in Munichmarker or Heidelbergmarker. From then travelers visited Hollandmarker and Flanders (with more gallery-going and art appreciation) before returning across the Channel to England.

Published accounts

William Beckford's Grand Tour through Europe shown in red.
Published (and often polished) accounts of personal experiences on the Grand Tour provide illuminating detail and a first-hand perspective of the experience. Of some accounts offered in their own lifetimes, Jeremy Black detects the element of literary artifice in these and cautions that they should be approached as travel literature rather than unvarnished accounts. He lists as examples Joseph Addison, John Andrews, William Thomas Beckford, whose Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents was a published account of his letters back home in 1780, embellished with stream-of-consciousness associations, William Coxe, Elizabeth Craven, John Moore, tutor to successive dukes of Hamilton, Samuel Jackson Pratt, Tobias Smollett, Philip Thicknesse, and Arthur Young.

The Grand Tour on television

In 2009, the Grand Tour featured prominently on a PBS miniseries based on the novel by Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit. Produced with masterful attention to detail, and in sumptuous settings, mainly Venice, it faithfully portrayed the Grand Tour as an essential ritual for entry to English high society.

Kevin McCloud presented 'Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour' on Channel 4 during the late summer and early autumn of 2009. The four part series saw Kevin retrace the popular tour by Britishmarker architects through the last four centuries.

In 2005, British art historian Brian Sewell followed in the footsteps of the Grand Tourist for a 10 part television series 'Brian Sewell's Grand Tour'. Produced by UK's Channel Five, Sewell travelled across Italy by car stopping off in Rome, Florence, Vesuvius, Naples, Pompeii, Turin, Milan, Cremona, Siena, Bologna, Vicenza, Paestum, Urbino, Tivoli. His journey concluded in Venice at a masked ball.

In 1998, the BBC produced an art history series 'Sister Wendy's Grand Tour' presented by Carmelite nun Sister Wendy. Ostensibly an art history series, the journey takes her from Madridmarker to St. Petersburgmarker with stop offs to see the great masterpieces.

See also


  1. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class 1991:43.
  2. Pilgrimages, Four major pilgrimages New Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. Anthony Wood reported that the book was "esteemed the best and surest Guide or Tutor for young men of his Time."
  4. Paul Fussell (1987), p. 129.
  5. Noted by Redford 1996, Preface.
  6. Bohls & Duncan (2005)
  7. See Fussell (1987), Buzard (2002), Bohls and Duncan (2005)
  8. Ostend was the initial starting point for William Beckford on the continent.
  9. French was the language of the elite in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries from the Netherlands to Italy
  10. The Registro dei viaggiatori inglesi in Italia, 1618-1765, consists of 2038 autograph signatures of English and Scottish visitors, some of them scholars, to be sure. (J. Isaacs, "The Earl of Rochester's Grand Tour" The Review of English Studies 3. 9 [January 1927:75-76]).
  11. Redford, Bruce. Venice and the Grand Tour. Yale University Press: 1996.
  12. Eglin, John. Venice Transfigured: The Myth of Venice in British Culture, 1660-1797. Macmillan: 2001.
  13. Black, "Fragments from the Grand Tour" The Huntington Library Quarterly 53.4 (Autumn 1990:337-341) p 338.
  14. Andrews, A Comparative View of the French and English Nations in their Manners, Politics, and Literature, London, 1785.
  15. Coxe, Sketches of the Natural, Political and Civil State of Switzerland London, 1779; Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden and Denmark London, 1784; Travels in Switzerland London, 1789. Coxe's travels range far from the Grand Tour pattern.
  16. Craven, A Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople London 1789.
  17. Moore, A View of Society and Manners in Italy; with Anecdotes relating to some Eminent Characters London, 1781
  18. Thicknesse, A Year's Journey through France and Part of Spain, London, 1777.


  • Elizabeth Bohls and Ian Duncan, ed. (2005). Travel Writing 1700-1830 : An Anthology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-284051-7
  • James Buzard (2002), "The Grand Tour and after (1660-1840)", in The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing. ISBN 0-521-78140-X
  • Paul Fussell (1987), "The Eighteenth Century and the Grand Tour", in The Norton Book of Travel, ISBN 0-393-02481-4
  • Edward Chaney (1985), The Grand Tour and the Great Rebellion: Richard Lassels and 'The Voyage of Italy' in the seventeenth century(CIRVI, Geneva-Turin, 1985.
  • Edward Chaney (2004), "Richard Lassels": entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Edward Chaney, The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations since the Renaissance (Frank Cass, London and Portland OR, 1998; revised edition, Routledge 2000). ISBN 0-7146-4474-9.
  • Edward Chaney ed. (2003), The Evolution of English Collecting (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2003).
  • Geoffrey Trease, The Grand Tour (Yale University Press) 1991.
  • Andrew Witon and Maria Bignamini, Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth-Century.

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