TOURNEFORT, Joseph Pitton de
Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708) was a French botanist. He was born to a well-to-do family in Aix-en-Provence. Tournefort initially took up studies in theology. However, as he had a marked inclination towards natural sciences, he turned to medicine. He completed his studies at the University of Montpellier. In 1681, he was in Barcelona doing research in botany. In 1694 Tournefort published his first three-volume work, in which he classified 8846 plants. In 1698 he became Doctor in Medicine of the University of Paris. At that time his treatise was also translated into Latin. Tournefort became a famous physician and naturalist. He travelled extensively in Western Europe (Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, England). He had published a number of works on botany, and had acquired a fabulous collection of nearly 50.000 books, as well as costumes, arms, minerals, shells and various curiosities. Thus, he already had a very important career behind him when Louis XIV entrusted him with the mission to bring new plants to the Royal Botanical Garden.
Tournefort started out on his voyage to the Near East in the spring of 1700, at the age of 44, accompanied by a painter and a doctor. He visited thirty-eight islands of the Greek archipelago, as well as Northern Anatolia, Pontus and Armenia, and reached Tiflis in Georgia. Tournefort returned to Marseilles in June 1702.
His manuscript, composed of his letters to the Minister of the Exterior Count de Pontchartain, was published posthumously in 1717. A number of re-editions followed, while his work was also translated into English, German and Flemish. There is also a Greek translation of the first part. The fact that Tournefort had discovered new plants in his journey led him to publish a supplement to his main work of botanical classification in 1703. He taught Botany in the Académie, while continuing to practice medicine; at the same time, he was in charge of the Royal Gardens, where many plants he brought from his travels were cultivated with success. Having survived a multitude of adventures, Tournefort died of an accident in 1708. He did not live to see the publication of his travel chronicle, which in the following three centuries became the basic manual to all travellers to these regions. Until today, researchers from numerous fields turn to Tournefort’s text, as it remains an invaluable source of information. He describes the places he visited in a particular systematic manner.
The systematic way he organizes his information on topography, economy, administration, ethnic composition, customs and habits of everyday life shows how one can arrive at truth and knowledge through research, methodical study, classification and generalisation. To document his research, Tournefort cites a hundred and thirty-five texts by Greek and Latin authors as well as Byzantine writers, Humanists, and earlier travel accounts.
He methodically narrates his visit to each island, and describes the locations as well as events that he witnessed and encounters with locals. He then continues with the island’s history from ancient times to the current age, citing the corresponding myths, and comparing with the information provided by ancient coins. Subsequently, he writes on the island’s administration and taxes, commerce, products and prices thereof. An entire chapter is dedicated to the Greek church. Tournefort also writes on monasteries and churches, house architecture and caves. He also describes the customs, the dress and the occupations of the inhabitants. He concludes his chapters with geographical observations from the highest point of each main region.
Naturally, his work includes engravings of city views, locations and monuments as well as plants, instruments and costumes. The text becomes alive with vivid descriptions of his encounters with islanders, be it Turks, Franks, Greeks or privateers. Of special interest are his descriptions of fortresses, ports, safe havens and his information on map drawing.
The second volume is a publication of his thoroughly documented manuscripts. It was not edited by Tournefort himself as had happened with the first. On numerous occasions he refers to the politics, administration and ethnic composition of the Ottoman Empire. He continues with his journey on the southern coast of the Black Sea to Armenia. The work closes with a short description of Smyrna and Ephesus.
Tournefort is considered the first to have shown the islands of the Archipelago to be “travel material”, as he offered information which inspired the interest for further research, and also highlighed each location’s wealth and uniqueness.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou