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CURZON, Robert, Baron Zouche. Visits to Monasteries in the Levant, London, George Newnes, 1897.

Robert Curzon, 14th Baron of Zouche (1810-1873) travelled to Egypt and the Holy Land in 1833, and to Meteora and Mount Athos in 1837. In his first journey, in July 1833, he sailed from Malta to Alexandria. He visited Cairo and the Coptic monasteries of the area, and reached Jerusalem. At the end of October 1834, he travelled from Corfu to Ioannina and Metsovo, and then to the monasteries in Meteora. He returned to Corfu fifteen days later. In 1837, he journeyed from Istanbul to Mount Athos, where he visited many of the monasteries. Curzon assumed major political responsibilities during the years 1841-43, as a member of the British embassy in Istanbul, and later as secretary to Sir Stratford Canning, As he describes in detail in his text, he was in charge of the transportation of manuscripts from Orthodox monasteries of the East (three codices from Palestine in 1834 and three from Mount Athos in 1837, among which an illuminated 14th-century Psalter). These manuscripts were deposited in the British library after Curzon’s death. Curzon’s account was republished a number of times until 1851 and once more in 1916. The wood engravings of the edition were based on his own drawings.

In 1844, Al. Kinglake had introduced a new style of travel accounts: Virtually omitting any type of information on places, monuments and people, indifferent to historical documentation, he focuses on his personal impressions and emotions. Thus Kinglake inaugurated a new school of travel writing, of which Curzon became part. In a very detailed introduction, Curzon gives an overview of the history of the Church, the Holy Fathers, heresies and dogmatic controversies. He also speaks oft the beauty of nature in Mount Athos, the confluence between the architecture of the monasteries and the landscape, Orthodox religious art and the icons in the churches. He expands on the particularities of Byzantine art, which he compares with Western art, and deals with church hierarchy, monastic life and Armenian monasteries. In the main body of the text, he lets unfold his personal experience and emotions.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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