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Travelogues – Planning the website


The concept of travel accounts covers all texts and images handed down by travellers, or even non-travellers from Western Europe, who in a printed document or manuscript related their experience, knowledge or vision of travelling in the area of the Mediterranean and Southeastern Europe or who described the area in their work, from the 15th to the 20th century. Thus, the notion of travellers includes scholars such as geographers, cartographers, writers of isolaria, and erudite humanists, even if they never travelled physically, together with the diplomats, pilgrims, spies, naturalists, members of the military, sailors, physicians, priests; people with a more theoretical or more experiential approach; painters, landscape painters, architects, engineers, archaeologists, romantic writers, merchants and missionaries; monks, scientists, pirates, captives, writers and adventurers who left texts and images from their journeys. Travellers and their accounts act as intermediaries in the communication process between western Europe and ethno-religious groups such as Orthodox Greeks, Muslims, Armenians, Jews and Catholics in the East, and the powers that dominate them at different periods (Ottomans, Venetians, Genoese, British, French etc.) The perception of space and people by travellers changed and fluctuated according to the intellectual, political and cultural currents which shaped European history from the 15th to the 20th century. Consequently, through text and image, travel accounts speak of how Europe, at any given time of its history, has viewed the places, people and monuments that travellers saw during their voyages.


At the beginning, as far as locations and people are concerned, travellers compose hazy islets of reality by seeing, writing and drawing – simply because at this point they “look without seeing”. They are still unable to see anything besides what they carry inside, culturally and emotionally (16th - 17th century). Gradually, travellers from the West deal with the past and with the unknown with increased sensitivity and knowledge. Through complex procedures, destinations and goals become clear and the traveller's knowledge is enriched with elements beyond the expected (late 17th to 18th century). Together with unprecedented experiences, travellers' backgrounds, aims and ideological viewpoints become ever more diverse. Nineteenth-century testimonies record a profusion of situations and events, people and ideas in movement, and encounters and exchanges, which permits to glean the dimensions of the ever-growing and by now widespread current of travelling in the Mediterranean.

Travellers' texts are the result of a complex process. Travellers start out with a certain theoretical baggage and ideological positioning, which is often subverted by means of the travel experience. The traveller's perception of their journey, as it is recorded in his/ her account, is reproduced in succeeding texts and thereby contributes to the formation of certain stereotypes.


There is a constant flux of travellers from Western Europe to the Mediterranean from the 15th to th 20th century. Choice of itinerary is often defined by reading works of ancient Greel and Latin literature, earlier travel accounts and literary works. The traveller's route is thus defined by his/her preferred reading as well as by chance events during the journey. Until the 16th century, the main motive of travelling is either commerce or the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Additionally, there are several accounts by members of diplomatic missions to Istanbul. In the mid-17th century, travellers start to tour western Asia Minor, while some visitors to the islands also partly explore continental Greece. During the 18th century, interest for antiquities is what shapes travellers' itineraries, and archaeological sites are swamped by visitors interested in antiquity. Routes take every direction possible, although the majority of journeys has Istanbul as starting point or final destination. At the same time, Athens steadily attracts more visitors. The 19th century is marked by the establishment of independent states in Southeastern Europe and the development of mass transport. Visitors direct themselves to the newly-founded Greek state and Macedonia, Thrace, Crete and the Ionian islands, and start to explore the inland of Asia Minor, while Istanbul and the Holy Land are still the most popular destinations together with the larger area of the former Ottoman Empire (Black Sea, Aegean Sea etc.).


As West Europeans travel across Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean by land or boat, spurred by the space they visit, they take several routes in composing their travel accounts; some of them narrate the historical past, drawing upon Greek and Latin literature, while others record their personal experience or comment upon the people they encounter and the situations they find themselves in (politics, everyday life, religious ceremonies etc.). Travel accounts constitute thus a precious source on geography, economics, demographics, society, religion and the diverse fields of everyday life of the populations with which travellers become acquainted.


One crucial aspect of travel literature is graphic representation of space. While early panoramic views of cities understandably include several imaginary components, gradually there is a transition to cartographic depictions, with artistic elements always present. This focus permitted a topographical mapping of the territory and was also connected to the prospect of military conquests. Gradually, during the 18th century, a number of changes influences representation of space in travel works, such as polyphony in methods of representation, and the development of more sophisticated engraving techniques. At the same time, aesthetic criteria evolve and change, while publishers are more and more eager to enrich travel accounts with pictures. The documentation of excavations and geophysical studies, and the existence of newer, detailed and accurate maps also offer new material. All these factors contribute to the wealth of visual information legated by travel literature of this extended period. Credit is due above all to the artists-travellers of the 19th and 20th centuries, who capture the most engaging moments of everyday life. This same tendency dominates since the early 19th century, where either an anthropological focus, or philhellenism, or romanticism or an orientalist approach are prevalent. Europeans owe to painters the most insightful depiction of human behaviour. Their works bear the marks of all artistic and intellectual currents and tendencies of Europe. In the mid-19th century, light starts to write its own text thanks to the new technique available: the speed with which photography expanded also announced the future of this art and technique. The photographic shot, ruthless in its objectivity, is for this same reason an invaluable, unhoped-for historical testimony, and records original subjects encountered by travellers such as antiquities, landscapes and human types.


In the last thirty years travel accounts on the Eastern Mediterranean are acknowledged as an important historical resource. In Western Europe, the study of travel literature related to the Mediterranean and its surrounding areas is a branch of Comparative Literature and Local History as well as part of the broader area of Travel Literature studies, which deals with voyages from Europe to the rest of the world. Research institutions, museums, libraries and other institutes in Greece (National Institute from Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, the Academy of Athens, the Benaki Museum, Gennadius Library etc.) have worked on material from travel accounts through research projects, data bases and other applications, focusing on the texts, and mainly on references to the social and public life of the Greeks, folk culture, economics and demographics as well as testimonies on ancient sites and monuments. Graphic materials from travel accounts have been exhibited sporadically, or with a focus on specific subjects related to local history.


Image is a tool for memory in each era, as well as a means of communication and revelation. It participates in the external space which it depicts as well as in the internal world of the artist. It is also an instrument for studying cultures. The graphic material which accompanies travel works is rich and diverse (engravings, drawings, photographs etc.) and an invaluable source of information on the history of space and people. The position and function of illustration in travel works varies according to intellectual and artistic currents prevalent in Europe at any given period, the demands and response of the public, editorial strategies and fashion. Another crucial factor is individual sensitivity and the scientific and artistic interests of each traveller, which is also related to the productiobn of more or less objective drawings. Greece and the Greek Orthodox world, what came to be called “the Greek tour”, has always been a long voyage of memory for European travellers, be it in reality or in imagination. The stations of memory have varied according to contingency, individual motives and interests. Travellers from western Europe consider themselves heirs and participants of the Greek spirit, and thus approach space with their personal “Greece” as baggage, a Greece inextricably bound with historical memories. In the first centuries of travel (16th-17th century) image is fragmentary and lacking. An interest in ancient ruins becomes apparent through time, and enriches the corpus of illustrations with important drawings and views of ancient monuments throughout their history (17th -18th centuries). Everyday life and human types equally attract travellers' interest from the 16th century onwards. In the 19th century, landscape becomes a main point of attraction, in particular landscapes which include ancient monuments. The corpus of illustrations from travel accounts is partially known but in its majority unexplored. Although some subjects have become the object of thorough studies, they have never been classified and documented, so that image can occupy its proper place as historical testimony.

The website created by Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation aims to present for the first time the near totality of graphic material from travel editions, accompanied by thorough documentation. This invaluable corpus has been organised and classified into specific categories so that it can be used by researchers and scientists internationally; at the same time, it is accessible to the general public and ready to become useful as teaching material. The website is a panorama of travel illustrations of the broader space in which Greeks and other ethnicities, lived, moved and acted in the past five centuries.

After researching travel accounts, the scientific team entrusted with creating the Travelogues website presents an important number of illustrated works published between the 15th and early 19th century, and some representative works from the 19th and the early 20th century. The website shall be continuously updated.

Travelogues will periodically be updated with material from major libraries in Greece, such as Gennadius Library and Benaki Museum Library. This material, already in process, spans the time from the 15th to the early 20th century. Of approximately 4500 images, 560 have already been incorporated in the website's collections. In the same sense, the bibliography shall be updated with the most recent research contributions. User feedback will be taken into consideration and the pertinent modifications will get reflected.

Ioli Vingopoulou