In the 15th century and later, the pilgrimage to the Holy Land was one of the main reasons to travel to the eastern Mediterranean. Before or after their tour of the Holy Land, pilgrims normally wished to visit Sinai peninsula as well. This meant travelling to Egypt, one of whose main ports was Alexandria.
A city with a glorious past, Alexandria was still an important political and commercial centre. Its few remaining monuments attracted the travellers' attention and illustrated their works.
Thanks to its splendid ancient past, Alexandria was one of the cities to be depicted in the incunabula (first printed books), such as the “Nurnberg chronicle” by H. Schedel (1493), which is an illustrated history of the world. Naturally, views of cities in that book are imaginary, and tend to greatly resemble each other.
The illustrations in the early chronicle by A. Thevet (1551) were quite rare for the time, as they include an ancient statue from Crete which was in possession of a Venetian living in Alexandria. Over time, there is a noticeable tendency to render the city more realistically, as in the important travel account by P. Belon (1554) and the pilgrim chronicles by Noe Bianco (1600) and H. Beauvau(1615). The editions by J. Peeters in the late 17th century (1686 and 1690) also exalt the victories of the Holy League in the Ottoman-Venetian wars. The plates show cities, ports and other locations in Austria, Southeastern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and places in Asia all the way to India and Saudi Arabia.
The drawings which accompany B. de Monconys' text (1665-66) constitute a corpus of material unique in travel literature. They include distillation instruments, chemistry experiments, hydraulic devices, hydrometers, architectural drawings, depictions of meteorological phenomena, plans, human types, astronomical instruments etc.
A century later (1714), the first realistic depiction of Alexandria appears in the chronicle by C. Le Bruyn, who illustrated his work with original engravings of high artistic value.
After Le Bruyn, antiquities and other sights of Alexandria gain in prominence and illustrate travel chronicles such as the accounts by French antiquarian P. Lucas (1720) and British Ch. Perry (1743), the impressive work by R. Pococke (1743), rich in pictures and information, the works by R.Dalton (1751-52) and Ed. D. Clarke (1814), and the companion album to the chronicle by French naturalist Ch.N.S. Sonnini de Manoncourt (1799). The plates which embellish the travel account by J. Thevenot (1727) show uncommon subjects. In their majority, they are highly detailed compositions consisting of several figures. They show scenes taking place in faraway lands and seem to tell a story which captivates the viewer; an example is the plate showing the catacombs of Alexandria.
In the 19th century, after the crucial political and military events which took place in the region, the city continues to form part of itineraries in the eastern Mediterranean (H. Allan in 1843, H. Light in 1818, J. Carne in 1836-38, J. d’Estourmel in 1848). The artistic magazines of the 19th century published plates with views of significant monuments of the East, accompanied by thorough explanatory texts. They sold well, and aimed both at entertaining and educating the public (M. Busch, 1869)
John Seller drew some of the first maps of the coasts of the area. J. Seller was the creator of the first detailed mapping of the Mediterranean coast, titled “English Pilot...” . First published in the 17th century, it was repeatedly reissued and continued to be used down to the 19th century (here in the 1771 edition). Seller's works established the use of the English language in maritime charts and greatly influenced later cartographic editions. The area is mapped in J.Roux' s port index by (1804), in the chronicle by mineralogist Ed. D.Clarke (1814), very significant for its insights, and the companion Atlas to the chronicle by A.Fr.L.V. de Marmont(Duc de Raguse) in 1839. W. Black also visited Alexandria in the 1820's.
Remarkable plates depicting flora and fauna of the area are found in the accounts by French naturalists P. Belon (1554) and G.A. Olivier (1801), and the chronicle by H.J. Breuning von und zu Buchenbach (1612) which also includes images of von Buchenbach and his travel companion.
A recently published album (Piraeus and Ports) includes two late-19th century views of Alexandria in colour, while a view of the fortress built on the site of the Lighthouse is found in the “Grèce” F.Ch.H.L. Pouqueville, (who in another of his works composed one of the most systematic texts on geomorphology of Continental Greece).
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou