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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56 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.

  9. Actually, the thing which surprises me in this article is what people thought when they came to visit Italy on their Grand Tour. Even today, lots of turists who visit Italy are disappointed about organization, maintenance and cleaning of the historical monuments. It’s a shame: Italy is, probably, the most beautiful country in the world and tourism could be the best way to improve our economy, especially during this period characterised by crisis. Tourists, and Italian people too, should be astonished about our huge cultural heritage. Not only Greek and Roman historical remains: Italy has also been the cradle of Renaissance and we have had an important part in the development of culture and arts that would spread all over Europe. We have to rise up stronger than before and take over the important role we have had during previous centuries to become again a great country. It may sound a bit utopian, but as other countries have done before, for istances Germany in 1990, we can build a new future for us.

  10. It’s true, generations have changed and maybe have different interests. I would like to study a year abroad, but I can’t do it because of the sport I practice.
    Some time ago, Italy was a beautiful country rich in history and nature. I think it’s still today, however, the other countries are cleaner and more developed. This is mostly fault of the Italians as they don’t love their country enough, but think only about themselves. This makes me angry.

  11. Hi teacher, today these kinds of travels are so widespread. I have a friend that in this moment is in America to learn English.
    It’s so interesting thinking about the Grand Tour.
    450 years ago (more or less) rich people did something that we still do today, with the difference that today more people can travel not only the ricchest.

  12. Nowadays, the chance to study abroad is a unique experience, and I’m not only talking about the possibility to improve your language, but also to get the chance to measure yourself, to know your limits and to meet different cultures.
    In my opinion it’s really important especially for young people, of course,not all of them may like the experience, but at least they would know the real life for a while (without parents or friends, or by working). So, happy or not, their cultural backgroung would be bigger.
    Now, thanks to globalization and tecnology, it is easier and you wouldn’t be completly alone for real.
    Reflecting on this, I can just immagine
    what kind of “tour” it was at the time.

    My turn will be soon… I’m leaving in January and I can’t wait.

  13. As an Italian I thiank that it’s the most beutiful country in the world and it has always been, but I can see why turists could not enjoy it. Besides, Italy would be appriciated more if travelling were still the old way and not just a list of monuments to visit.

  14. I think that this grandtour is a very good opportunity because you can see countries you have never been to. This Grand Tour today looks like the exchange program, where students learn a new language and see a new culture. So I say thanks to those who invented the grandtour in the past

  15. Hi teacher, the fashion of Grand tour is very interesting.Nowadays fortunately not only rich people can afford it.I can’t imagine how the people during the journey couldn’t love the wonderful places of Italy.

  16. For me, the idea of traveling around the world to study is amazing, unfortunately I will not be one of those who are likely to make this exoerience …by the way,I invite foreign students to choose Italy, because it is the best country in the world.

  17. I found this post very interesting. At that time these “Grand tours” were exclusively for rich people and it was an overwhelming experience. Today, however, the fourth year of high school abroad is not just for rich people, as you can work or get a grant.
    It always depends on the kind of person you are, but in my opinion it must be a wonderful experience.

  18. I found this article very interesting, thinking that many many years ago you could already go to places you’ve never seen. I think everyone wants to go around the world, but unfortunately it’s really expensive. Fortunately, the nicest places are in Italy.

  19. As far as I’m concerned travelling is one of the most sensational experience ever like a philosopher said : “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”, and I totally agree; indeed travelling, or rather be an exchange student, is an opportunity to learn new cultures and languages and it’s a way to open your mind, to experience new things, to change habits and a lot more than that.
    The idea of the “year abroad” was present even during the seventeenth century, when a lot of people used to go to Italy to see what they thought it was a mythical and extraordinary place. But, once arrived, their fantastic and, unfortunately, unreal idea of Italy was replaced with a completely different one. That makes me, as a proud Italian citizen, a little bit disappointed because that reminded me how a beautiful country like ours, if not the most beautiful, is not enhanced enough but it’s actually underestimated and despised.

  20. I’ve got some friends who studied abroad and they told me it’s so costructive… I think living in another country, far from your family and your friends, could make you very strong and mature and open your mind.

  21. I think that travelling is the only way to learn other languages,local costumes but,the most particularly to understand that other people in the world are more advanced.Many nobles of that time had exoerienced the Grand Tour since they could afford it. Time teaches us that “knowing is power”and that’s why Elglish people traveled so much.

  22. I believe that travelling is a great experience and I am glad now we all can travel and have this possibility .In my opinion every travel also the shortest one has its sentimental part due to place,culture,people,history and language of the country you are visiting. To know and compare other cultures open our minds and make us have a wider vision of life.

  23. Very interesting post.
    Italy has always been one of the most visited destinations and this makes me proud as Italian, but we can’t deny that what Goethe said mirrors the present.
    These Grand tours make me think of a kind of cruises,the only difference is that today a wider number of people can afford them.

  24. The read is very interesting and I completely agree with the idea of ‘Grand Tour’ as an experience to travel in a foreign country not only as a spectator but to have a deeper knowledge of its people and traditions. Nowadays low cost airlines and accomodations allow many people to travel abroad but without emotional involvement towards the places they visit.

  25. Spending a year abroad is an opportunity that has to be lived because it allows to get an important cultural baggage, although it isn’t economically affordable for everyone. But this experience is worth an economic sacrifice.

  26. I agree that travelling is a very important method to improve the knowledge of a foreign language. Also I think that a travel in Italy is still a “grand tour” even now. Italy is a very beautiful country with very important monuments and archaeological sites, but the words of Goethe are still right, everyone in Italy thinks only of itself, politicians above all…

  27. Above all Italy is the most beautiful country in the world but Goethe is right because unfortunately Italy is governed by inadequate politicians who are destroying it. In my opinion traveling is amazing and I am very curious to discover the cultures of all countries in the world.

  28. I find this article very interesting. For some years It has been spreading this project about echange program in high schools. I think that it is a fantastic experience but sincerely I would not do it in the High School because I prefer enjoying these last beautiful years with my friends in Italy. I would rather join an erasmus program at university or directly attending university abroad.

  29. Hi teacher I Think that spend a year out to improve your language is a big opportunity but there is a possibility that when you come back you are not to the same level of the other come the difference of school between English and American school from the Italian.
    It is amazing that this was did in the past but now not only the rich can travel to another country.
    Francesco Rizzitelli

  30. It’s hard to say but I have to be honest : in my opinion our country is one of the best of the world. It has many wonderful aspects such as history, food, natural landscapes and kind people. But we have big problems like the high level of disorganization and the massive corruption through politicians. Even if I’m young, during my short life I had the opportunity to visit beatiful countries and I can assert that we have to learn a lot from them. So I’m not really surprised by the idea of Italy that the grand-tourists had in the eighteenth century. I consider it incredibly actual. However I’m pretty sure that a “grand tour” is an amazing chance to improve your skills in language, to be autonomous and self-sufficient, to learn to take your own responsabilites and to know other different cultures. I hope I will have my own tour soon although I’m pretty scared about the idea of leaving my family and all my friends for a long time.

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