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TOURNEFORT, Joseph Pitton de. Relation d’un Voyage du Levant, fait par ordre du Roy. Contenant l’histoire ancienne & moderne de plusieurs Isles de l’Archipel, de Constantinople…, vols I-II, Paris, Imprimerie Royale, 1717.

The French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708) was born into a well-to-do family in Aix-en-Provence. Initially, he studied Theology, but as he had a marked inclination towards the natural sciences, he turned to Medicine, completing his studies at the University of Montpellier. In 1681, he was in Barcelona conducting botanical research. In 1694 Tournefort published his first three-volume work, in which he classified 8,846 plants. In 1698 the title Doctor of Medicine was conferred on him by the University of Paris. At that time, his treatise was also translated into Latin. Tournefort became a famous physician and naturalist. He travelled extensively in Western Europe (Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, England). He had published a number of works on botany, and had acquired a wonderful collection of nearly 50,000 books, as well as costumes, arms, minerals, shells and various curiosities. Thus, he already had a very important career behind him when Louis XIV entrusted him with the mission to bring new plants to the Royal Botanical Garden.

Tournefort started out on his voyage to the Near East in the spring of 1700, at the age of 44, accompanied by a painter and a physician. He visited thirty-eight islands of the Greek archipelago, as well as Northern Anatolia, Pontus and Armenia, and reached Tiflis in Georgia. Tournefort returned to Marseilles in June 1702.

His manuscript, composed of his letters to the Foreign Minister Count de Pontchartain, was published posthumously in 1717. A number of editions followed, while his work was also translated into English, German and Flemish. There is a Greek translation of the first part. The fact that Tournefort had discovered new plants during his journey led him to publish a Supplementum to his main work of botanical classification in 1703. He taught Botany in the Académie, while continuing to practise medicine. Concurrently, he was in charge of the Royal Gardens, where many plants he brought back from his travels were cultivated with success. Having survived a multitude of adventures, Tournefort died of an accident in 1708. He did not live to see the publication of his travel chronicle, which in the following three centuries was the basic manual for all travellers to these regions. Even today, researchers in numerous disciplines turn to Tournefort’s text, which remains an invaluable source of information.

He employs a specific method of describing the places he visited, presenting information on the topography, economy, administration, ethnic composition, customs and habits of everyday life, in a manner that demonstrates that truth and knowledge are approached through research, systematic study, classification and generalization. To document his research, Tournefort refers to one hundred and thirty-five texts by Greek and Latin authors, as well as Byzantine writers, Humanists, and earlier travel accounts.

He narrates methodically his visit to each island, and describes the locations as well as events that he witnessed, and his encounters with local people. He continues with the island’s history from antiquity to his day, citing the corresponding myths and comparing with information provided by ancient coins. Then he writes on the island’s administration and taxes, commerce, products and the prices of these. An entire chapter is dedicated to the Greek Church. Tournefort also writes on monasteries and churches, house architecture and caves. He describes the customs, the dress and the occupations of the inhabitants. He concludes his chapters with geographical observations made from the highest point of each main region.

Naturally, his work includes engravings of city views, locations and monuments, as well as of plants, tools and costumes. The text is enlivened by eloquent accounts of his encounters with islanders, be it Turks, Franks, Greeks or privateers. Of special interest are his descriptions of fortresses, anchorages, safe havens and his information on map drawing.

The second volume, which was printed from his thoroughly documented manuscripts, was not edited by Tournefort himself, as had happened with the first. On numerous occasions he refers to the politics, administration and ethnic composition of the Ottoman Empire. He continues with his journey along the southern coast of the Black Sea to Armenia. The work closes with a short description of Smyrna and Ephesus. Tournefort is considered the first person to have shown the islands of the Archipelago to be “travel material”, as he offered information that inspired interest in further investigation, and highlighted the wealth and uniqueness of each place.

ANDROS Tournefort starts with explanations of the various names of Andros (citing Pausanias, Pliny, Diodorus and Plutarch), as well as of its form and geographical location. He enumerates its villages and writes on the island’s products, its antiquities, administration and history. He visits the Aga and the ruins at Palaeopolis, and spends a night in the monastery of Panagia. He also visits Castro and Gavrion, the two main settlements. Although he was on the island at the end of November 1701, he remarks that: “upon exiting the city [Kato Kastro], one comes upon the most beautiful fields in the world”.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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