GELL, William, Sir. Narrative of a Journey in the Morea, London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1823.
Sir William Gell (1777–1836) was a British traveller, archaeologist and topographer. Gell was born in Hopton, Derbyshire and graduated from Cambridge university. The Gells are an aristocratic family of England, going as far back as the era of King John (1199-1216). The family has several branches and its members have served in the higher ranks of the army, the navy, the parliament and the clergy.
Gell possessed a solid classical education. He visited Greece several times as an envoy of the British government, always carrying with him the works of Strabo and Pausanias, from which he frequently cites. The main aim of his journeys was to provide a solution to the Homeric question, to which purpose he travelled to Ithaca and to the Troad peninsula. Gell placed ancient Troy at Pınarbaşı, approximately ten kilometres from Hisarlık hill, where Schliemann later conducted his excavations.
Gell collected his observations in "Topography of Troy" (1804), an edition that earned him recognition as a topographer. Byron, a friend of Gell, calls him "classic Gell" in his "British Bards": "Of Dardan tours let dilettanti tell, / I leave topography to classic Gell". In 1814 Gell accompanied princess Carolina in her tour of Italy, and was knighted in that same year. He later settled in Rome and took to painting.
During his stay in Italy, Gell and John Peter Gandy published "Pompeiana" in 1817, followed by "Pompeiana. The Topography of Edifices and Ornaments of Pompeii" in 1832. Both works collect the findings of the excavations in Pompeii from 1819 onwards. They are especially interesting since the topographer drew finds and excavation sites with the aid of a "camera lucida", which ensured very precise images. Gell died in Naples on 4 February 1836 and was buried at the city's protestant cemetery.
In 1803 Gell was in the Ionian islands on a diplomatic mission. His subsequent journey to the Peloponnese in the company of archaeologist Edward Dodwell provided him with material for several editions, including "Narrative of a journey in the Morea" (1812). The traveller records his impressions of his successive visits to the region over the course of twenty years. Gell first visited Methoni (Modon) and Pylos (Navarino). From there he continued on to Gargalianoi, Filiatra, Arcadia, Sidirokastro, Phigaleia or Pavlitsa in Elis, Bassae, Antritsaina, Karytaina, Tripolitza (Tripoli), Megalopoli, Kalamata and Mani. He subsequently crossed the valley of Eurotas river, and visited Mystras, Sklavochorio, where he recorded fragments of ancient inscriptions (spolia) incorporated into the churches of the vicinity, Argos, Nafplio and Hydra island.
Since the book was written in response to a request from a lady to "give us anything but your dull maps and measures", Gell does not provide thorough details on archaeological sites. Instead he records his impressions of the life of Greek and Turkish inhabitants in the period shortly preceding the Greek War of Independence. The author is sceptical as to the possible success of the Greek uprising, since in his epilogue he explicitly states that "Grecian liberty, I hold […] to be a thing quite unattainable at the present day" (p. 408).
GELL, William. The Topography of Troy and its vicinity illustrated and explained by drawings and descriptions etc. London, 1804.
GELL, William. The Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca. London, 1807.
GELL, William. The Itinerary of Greece, with a commentary on Pausanias and Strabo, and an account of the Monuments of Antiquity at present existing in that country, compiled in the years 1801, 2, 5, 6 etc.. London, 1810. [2nd ed. containing a hundred routes in Attica, Boeotia, Phocis, 1827].
GELL, William. The Itinerary of the Morea, being a description of the Routes of that Peninsula. London, 1817.
GELL, William. Pompeiana. The Topography of Edifices and Ornaments of Pompeii. 2 vols. London, 1817-8. [New ed. 1824. Further edition by Gell alone incorporating the results of latest excavations. London 1832 και1852].
GELL, William. Narrative of a Journey in the Morea. London, 1823.
GELL, William. The Topography of Rome and its Vicinity with Maps. 2 vols., London, 1834. [Rev. and enlarged by Edward Henry Banbury, London 1846].
Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). "Gell, Sir William" in Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge, 1911.
Wroth, W. W. & Thompson, J. “Gell, Sir William (1777–1836)”, classical archaeologist and traveler” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford 2004.
Written by Nicolas Nicolaides