Welcome to Rome Across Europe!
If you are anything like us, then you love to travel. As part of our travels, we love to learn about where we are going.
What should we see? Why should we go this tour instead of that? Where should we eat? How do we get around?
Today we embark on the most lavish journey (maybe ever) as we set out on The Grand Tour!
Before we begin, without knowing a thing about this tour you should probably be able to guess that it is something special since “Grand” is in the name. The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper class, young European men of means, or those of more humble origin who could find a sponsor.
The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transport in the 1840s, and was associated with a standard travel itinerary. Seen as an educational rite of passage, this trip was primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry.
Similar trips were made by wealthy young men of Protestant Northern European nations, and from the latter half of the 18th Century, by some South and North Americans. The tradition declined with the lapse of neoclassical enthusiasm and after rail and steamship travel made the journeys much easier.
The primary value of The Grand Tour lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionably polite 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, mostly depending on how much money you had. It was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone (knowledgeable guide or tutor).
The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance. 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.”
The most common itinerary of The Grand Tour shifted across generations in the cities it embraced, but the British tourist usually began in Dover, England and crossed the English Channel to Ostend, in the Netherlands / Belgium, or to Calais or Le Havre in France. From there the tourist, usually accompanied by a bear-leader (tutor) and, if wealthy enough, a troop 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 travelling up the Seine to Paris, or up the Rhine to Basel.
Upon hiring a French-speaking guide, as French was the dominant language of the elite in Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries, the tourist and his entourage would travel to Paris. There the traveler 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. 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 Switzerland for a while, often to Geneva (the cradle of the Protestant Reformation) or Lausanne. From there the traveler would endure a difficult crossing over the Alps into northern Italy (such as at the Great St Bernard Pass).
This would include dismantling the carriage and luggage. If one was wealthy enough, one might be carried over the hard terrain by servants.
Once in Italy, the tourist would visit Turin (and, less often, Milan), then might spend a few months in Florence, where there was a considerable Anglo-Italian society accessible to travelling Englishmen “of quality” and where the Tribuna of the Uffizi gallery brought together in one space the monuments of High Renaissance paintings and Roman sculptures that would inspire picture galleries adorned with antiquities at home. Side trips would be taken to Pisa, then move on to Padua, Bologna, and Venice since the British viewed it as the “locus of decadent Italianate allure” making Venice an epitome and cultural setpiece of the Grand Tour.
From Venice the traveler went to Rome to study the ruins of Ancient Rome, and the masterpieces of painting, sculpture, and architecture of Rome’s Early Christian, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Some travelers also visited Naples to study music, and (after the mid-18th Century) to appreciate the recently discovered archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and perhaps (for the adventurous) an ascent of Mount Vesuvius.
Later in the period the more adventurous, especially if provided with a yacht, might attempt Sicily (the site of Greek ruins), Malta or even Greece itself (though still under Turkish rule). But Naples, or later the further south Paestum, was the usual last stop.
From here the traveler again traversed the Alps heading north through to the German-speaking parts of Europe. The traveler might stop first in Innsbruck before visiting Vienna, Dresden, Berlin, and Potsdam, with perhaps some study time at the universities in Munich or Heidelberg.
The Grand Tour was neither a scholar’s pilgrimage nor a religious one, though a pleasurable stay in Venice and a cautious residence in Rome were essential. Catholic Grand Tourists followed the same routes as Protestant Whigs.
Since the 17th Century, a tour to such places was also considered essential for budding young artists to understand proper painting and sculpture techniques. The trappings of The Grand Tour (valets, coachmen, a bear-leader, and perhaps a cook) were usually beyond their reach though.
The advent of popular guides did much to popularize such trips, and following the artists themselves, the elite considered travel to such centers as necessary rites of passage. For gentlemen, some works of art were essential to demonstrate the breadth and polish they had received from their tour.
In Rome, antiquarians like Thomas Jenkins provided access to private collections of antiquities, enough antiquities proved to be for sale that the English market raised the price of such things. Purchasing coins and medals, which formed more portable souvenirs, proved to be a respected gentleman’s guide to ancient history.
Pompeo Batoni made a career of painting English milordi posed with graceful ease among Roman antiquities. Rome for many centuries had been the goal of pilgrims, especially during Jubilee when they visited the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.
In Britain, an early influence on The Grand Tour was Thomas Coryat‘s travel book Coryat’s Crudities (1611), which was published during the Twelve Years’ Truce. However, it was the far more extensive tour through Italy as far as Naples undertaken by the ‘Collector’ Earl of Arundel with his wife and children in 1613–14 that established the most significant precedent.
This is partly because he asked Inigo Jones, not yet established as an architect but already known as a ‘great traveler’ and masque designer, to act as his Cicerone. 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 ‘The Grand Tour’ (perhaps its introduction to English) was by Richard Lassels, an expatriate Roman Catholic priest, in his book The Voyage of Italy, which was published posthumously in 1670. Lassels’s introduction listed 4 areas in which travel furnished “an accomplished, consummate Traveler”: the intellectual, the social, the ethical, and the political.
The idea of travelling 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 the environment, taking from it all that is offered, 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 repeating The Grand Tour, historian Edward Gibbon remarked, “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. On the eve of the Romantic era in which he played a significant part in introducing, William Beckford wrote a vivid account of his Grand Tour that made Gibbon’s unadventurous Italian tour look distinctly conventional.
The typical 18th Century sentiment was that of the studious observer travelling through foreign lands reporting his findings on human nature for those unfortunate enough 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 for it offered a liberal education, and the opportunity to acquire things otherwise unavailable at home, thus lending an air of accomplishment and prestige to the traveler. Grand Tourists would return with crates full of books, works of art, scientific instruments, and cultural artifacts to be displayed in libraries, cabinets, gardens, drawing rooms, and galleries built for that purpose.
The trappings of The Grand Tour, especially portraits of the traveler painted in iconic continental settings, became the obligatory emblems of worldliness, gravitas and influence. Artists who especially thrived on Grand Tourists included Carlo Maratti, who was first patronized by John Evelyn as early as 1645, Pompeo Batoni, and the vedutisti such as Canaletto, Pannini and Guardi.
The less well-off could return with an album of Piranesi etchings. Not everyone was made of money, and most of these trips happened before postcards and souvenirs were created.
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 which now included Germany and Switzerland in a more broadly defined circuit.
It is important to see the contribution of anthropology to the study of The Grand Tour. An anthropologist argues that The Grand Tour emerged in England and was rapidly adopted by other Northern countries because its cultural roots came from Norse Mythology.
Among Indo-Arian mythologies, Norse culture is the only one where its major god, Odin, travels long distances to learn the customs and habits of humans. The ruler of Asgaard was accustomed to undertake his adventures in the form of animals.
Odin has been described as an ongoing wanderer whose hunger of adventure and risk has no limits. Operating under many disguises and using false identities, Odin is said to symbolize how pain is a necessary step to access unlimited knowledge, and this is the main value that The Grand Tour emulates.
Published personal accounts of The Grand Tour provide illuminating detail and a first-hand perspective of the experience. Examining some accounts offered by authors in their own lifetimes, they should be approached as travel literature rather than unvarnished accounts.
Examples of such literature come from Joseph Addison, William 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. Lord Byron‘s letters to his mother with the accounts of his travels have also been published.
Inventor Sir Francis Ronalds’ journals and sketches of his 1818–20 tour to Europe and the Near East have been published on the web. The letters written by sisters Mary and Ida Saxton of Canton, Ohio in 1869 while on a 6-month tour offer insight into The Grand Tour tradition from an American perspective.
In 1998, the BBC produced an art history series Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour presented by Carmelite nun Sister Wendy. Presumably an art history series, the journey takes her from Madrid to Saint Petersburg with stop-offs to see the great masterpieces.
In 2005, British art historian Brian Sewell followed in the footsteps of the Grand Tourists for a 10-part television series Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour. Produced by UK’s Channel Five, Sewell travelled by car and confined his attention solely to Italy stopping in Rome, Florence, Naples, Pompeii, Turin, Milan, Cremona, Siena, Bologna, Vicenza, Paestum, Urbino, Tivoli and concluding at a Venetian masked ball.
In 2008, The New York Times described The Grand Tour in this way:
Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.
Kevin McCloud presented Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour on Channel 4 in 2009, with McCloud retracing the tours of British architects. The 2016 Amazon motoring program The Grand Tour is named after the traditional Grand Tour, and refers to the show being set in a different location worldwide each week.
The legacy of The Grand Tour lives on to the modern day and is still evident in works of travel and literature. From its aristocratic origins and the permutations of sentimental and romantic travel to the age of tourism and globalization, The Grand Tour still influences the destinations tourists choose and shapes the ideas of culture and sophistication that surround the act of travel.
We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure, maybe even inspiring you on a Grand Tour of your own. Be sure to stop by again soon for we never know where we’ll end up.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Bignamini, Ilaria; Hornsby, Clare. Digging and Dealing in Eighteenth Century Rome. Yale University Press, 2010.
Bohls, Elizabeth; Duncan, Ian. Travel Writing 1700–1830 : An Anthology. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-284051-7
Buzard, James. “The Grand Tour and after (1660–1840)”. The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, 2002. ISBN 0-521-78140-X.
Chaney, Edward. The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations since the Renaissance. Routledge, 2000. ISBN 0-7146-4474-9.
Chaney, Edward. The Evolution of English Collecting. Yale University Press, 2003.
Chaney, Edward; Wilks, Timothy. The Jacobean Grand Tour: Early Stuart Travellers in Europe. I.B. Tauris, 2014. ISBN 978 1 78076 783 3.
Colletta, Lisa. The Legacy of the Grand Tour: New Essays on Travel, Literature, and Culture. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015. ISBN 978 1 61147 797 9.
Fussell, Paul. “The Eighteenth Century and the Grand Tour”. The Norton Book of Travel, 1987. ISBN 0-393-02481-4.
Gross, Matt. “Lessons From the Frugal Grand Tour.” New York Times, 5 September 2008.
Hornsby, Clare. “The Impact of Italy: The Grand Tour and Beyond”. British School at Rome, 2000.
Stephens, Richard. A Catalogue Raisonné of Francis Towne (1739–1816). Paul Mellon Centre, 2016. doi:10.17658/towne.
Trease, Geoffrey. The Grand Tour. Yale University Press, 1991.
Witon, Andrew; Bignamini, Ilaria. Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth-Century. Tate Gallery Exhibition Catalogue, 1997.