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BREYDENBACH, Bernhard von. Reise ins Heilige Land, E. Reuwich, Mainz 1486.

The nobleman Bernard von Breydenbach (1454-1497) was probably born in Strasbourg. He qualified as Doctor of Laws and was elected to high ecclesiastic offices (canon in the cathedral of Mainz, protonotary apostolic to abbeys, etc.). He made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1483, in the company of Count Jean de Solms (who died from dysentery in Alexandria), the knight Philippe de Bickem, the Dominican friar Felix Fabri and the painter Everand van Reewijk from Utrecht.

The party started on their journey on 25 April. After staying in Venice for twenty-two days, they embarked on Agostino Contarini’s galley, and paid forty-two ducats for the voyage to Jaffa. After stopping over at various ports of the Adriatic, Corfu, Methoni, Candia (Herakleion), Rhodes (on 18 June 1483) and Cyprus, they arrived in the Holy Land. In Jerusalem they lodged in Callinos’ inn, very well known at the time. They made the pilgrimage to Bethlehem, Hebron and other holy sites in Galilee, and eventually arrived at their final destination, Mount Sinai. On their return journey, they visited Cairo, the pyramids and Alexandria, where 15 November 1483 they boarded Venetian galleys returning to Venice via Methoni and the Ionian Islands.

The first edition of Breydenbach’s chronicle was published in Latin in 1486. The text was written by Martin Roth. It is the first printed travel chronicle to include wood engravings representing cities-ports of call on the maritime route from Venice to Palestine. Aside from the seven panoramic views of Venice, Parenzo, Corfu, Methoni, Herakleion, Rhodes and Jerusalem, it contains plates with figures of Saracens, Jews, Greeks, Syrians, Abyssinians and Turks, a view of the Holy Sepulchre, drawings of animals (a giraffe, a unicorn and a dromedary), and tables with letters of the Arabic, Hebrew, Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian and Greek alphabets. The work also has chapters on the various religious doctrines, a text on the distances between places on the route from Venice to Jaffa, a detailed calendar of pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Mount Sinai, advice, rules and recipes for protection against various travel hazards, the vision of Charles the Bold, and probably borrowings from other editions, such as the description of the Fall of Constantinople (as experienced and described by the eye-witness Patriarch Isidorus), the siege of Rhodes and the siege and conquest of Chalcis.

In contrast to the standardized descriptive texts of his era, Breydenbach’s work, with its original narrative and groundbreaking illustration, enjoyed immediate success, was translated into many languages (German, Dutch, French, Spanish) and became a classic, a model for subsequent pilgrim chronicles.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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