Grand Tour

grand 1Year after year always more and more many students of my school decide to experience a student exchange programme in order to improve their knowledge of a foreign language. The destinations may range from the English-speaking countries like the U.S.A., Ireland, England, Australia  to the more exotic ones like Japan, China or Taiwan. At first they are convinced it will be only a matter of studying in a new school, changing habits for a while and why not, enjoying the exciting flavour of independence, to understand very soon that they have been involved in something more complex than simply learning a language. I want to use the words of one of my students to explain it, who, once invited to report about her one year experience in Taiwan, was happy to say with such eager eyes that she felt like having lived a whole life in that year and even more.

grand 3Sterne would have called it a “Sentimental Journey“, where sentimental refers to those emotions that arise from both the vision of a new landscape and the confrontation with completely different habits and cultures. The belief that travelling was a fundamental step for the “Bildung” of an adolescent is not something new, but it was rooted more or less in the seventeenth century, when it became fashionable among the young offspring of European aristocracy, artists and cultivated men to undertake a travel to Italy or better a “Tour“. The term “tour” replaced “travel” or “journey” as it marked the peculiar nature of this kind of voyaging, which was particularly long and broad, with start and finish in the same place. Many countries were visited but the dream destination was Italy.

grand 4In 1670, Richard Lassels coined in his “Italian Voyage” the expression “Grand Tour” a neologism that would have been universally adopted since then. For the “grandtourists” Italy was a mythical place, an open-air museum where the climate was always sunny and bright and nature wild, uncontaminated. The wealth of its archaeological sites, the legacy of Renaissance, the extraordinary musical vein were powerful appeals, but that was the myth as the reality these travelers found was very often quite disappointing.Impoverished countryisde, lifeless ports  and towns, dusty cultural activities and political institutions that seemed so rusted if compared to the more advanced European models, especially those in England. Goethe, who  had toured Italy for a couple of years, marked the contradictions of the country in his “Italianishe Reisen”  and in a second trip to Italy 1790 he sentenced: “Italy is still as I left it, still dust on the roads, still cheating habit. If you look for German honesty, you will look in vain.There is liveliness here, but no order and discipline. everybody thinks only of itself,  politicians included…..” uhmmm, if he could see Italy today, I think he would use more or less the same words. However, despite some bad reviews, the Italian seduction still worked.

grand 5The phenomenon, in fact, became wider and rich travelers had the habit of touring in the company of valets, doctors, musicians, painters. The Earl of Burlington , Richard Boyle, arrived in Italy with fifteen people besides his  gardener and accountant, Lady Marguerite Blessington used to travel on double spring carriages provided with mattresses and pillows and William Beckford, the son of a wealthy London merchant, was accompanied in his second trip to Italy by the artist JR Cozens, the Rev. John Lettice, his guardian and factotum, the doctor  Projectus Errhardt, the harpsichordist John Burton and by such a large party of friends that once in  Augusta he was mistaken for the Emperor of Austria. An anonymous traveler wrote: “this travel mania is so widespread, that there is not one wealthy citizen that doesn’t  wish to enjoy the beauties of Germany, France and Italy”. Furthermore the new extraordinary archaeological discoveries of Herculaneum (1738) and Pompei (1748) had enriched the itineraries of the “grandtourists”.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the modernization of society (new roads and railways, industrialization) the new generations of “grandtourists” seemed to have less time and money at their disposal. The length of the “tours” started to shorten and the new travelling rhythms  were signs of  the impoverishment of those cultural aspirations which had characterized them for more than a century. Travelling became less “sentimental” and more diversion, a sequence of organized information rather than a personal discovery. Hence these students, who have had the chance to experience the world just like the “grand tourists” used to do, are the last, fortunate “romantics”.

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21 thoughts on “Grand Tour

  1. Stefy I agree that if one can become immersed in a place and culture a richer experience is to be had. You wouldn’t mind if we moved in with you and Mr Run would you? 🙂

  2. Sunday lesson with Mrs. Tink, this was as always great interesting informative read.
    So a sentimental journey to experience new things, places and people to “bildung” and adolescent…..I guess Sterne was right since I traveled to the U.S as a very young adolescent and was quite the culture shock, it did either brake you or make you in some sense. I suppose I had both, ups and downs. And see and maybe find new future opportunities or grow as a human being.
    And the word “tour” now I wonder if the words “tourism” or “tourist” came from that first word coined by Lassels.

  3. Nice to be reminded that many of us remain Grandtourists, in heart if not always in body, and equally delightful to note your reference to Sterne’s Sentimental Journey (though of course his entourage consisted just of one valet / factotum — even if he was French).

  4. This article is really interesting and after I read it, I could consider myself a grand tourist because I lived the exchange student life just last year. I am aware of the huge possilibity I had and I grabbed it. I can say I changed my mind and my opinions about a lot of life matters. Thanks to my experience I revalued my native country and I understood how beautiful Italy is and how many places I’ve never been yet. So I promised to myself to visit those places and I have already started keeping my promise, because last month I visited one of the last discoveries quoted in the article, Pompei.
    It’s a wonderful and surprising travel in the past and in our history.
    Thanks for sharing, it made me remember the emotions I felt last year during my exchange in Taiwan.

    • Hi Elisabetta, thank you for dropping by. You are and excellent example of how precious the exchange programme experience is. I’m pretty sure that nobody will ever stop you from now on. 😀

  5. I think the concept as originally conceived has died out but it lasted up to the mid-twentieth century, at least in the ‘former colonies’. My mother’s (chaperoned) tour was prematurely terminated in Budapest on the invasion of Poland and her adventure was not unusual to her cohort at the time (unmarried children of larger farmers). Perhaps postwar Europe lost it’s attraction among those who wanted to collect joyful memories? Your perceptions of these pilgrimages are mindful and informative and made a very enjoyable read.

  6. I am a very curious girl and I would like to travel around the world in my life, I love to discover new places, new cultures and learn new things. Unfortunately I was only in Germany a few years ago, but the trip was very exciting. In my opinion spending some days of our life in other countries is a fantastic experience, especially for us teenagers, because the reality is not only what surrounds us. So we just have to set our sails and navigate to new seas!

  7. Last summer I read an article about “grand tour” with sailing boat. A men and his wife decided to leave everything and to devote completely themselves to their passion: the sea. I admire their courage in leaving family, work and daily habits. They drastically changed life to chase a dream. Six years need to travel around te world with sailing boat. Six years?!?!? My first question is: is not boring to live six years the same situation? Maybe desire to achieve own purpose, pride when they will say: “we won” pushes the strength to overcross some initial hesitations. Satisfaction that they will try when they will return home after six years is something insourmontable.

  8. In my opinion travelling is very important. It allows to discover new places, new cultures and people completely different from us. Nowadays the choice to spend one year or more abroad is very widespread, especially among teenagers during the high school. Thanks to this experience you can grow up, becoming more mature, and the vision of world that surrounds you changes. However I think that it is necessary to have a great maturity and sensibility to catch the important aspects of this experience.
    In my opinion in our society this “Sentimental Journey”, unfortunately, is possible only during the high school because later our only concern is to find a job. For this reason the purpose of the majority part of people who decides to go abroad is to improve their knowledge and their professional training.

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