Jan Somer (c. 1560-1640) came from the Netherlands and was a member of the Benedictine order. He travelled in the East for approximately two years (1590-1592). He started out from his native town in Zeeland province in November 1590, and, by way of Livorno, Pisa, Florence, Bologna and Ferrara reached Venice and sailed out to the East on 17th June 1591.
After visiting Pula, the Dalmatian coast, Corfu and Zakynthos, he reached Chania on 24th July 1591 and subsequently toured Crete (Chandax and Rethymno). He then sailed to Egypt, but his ship fell into a violent storm and was forced to approach the port of Famagusta, where Somer was taken captive. He managed to escape captivity, and travelled in Egypt for some time (Alexandria, Rosetta, Cairo). In October of 1591 he visited Lebanon. Within a month, he toured Aleppo, Tripolis of Syria and Jerusalem, and subsequently sailed to Rhodes, Milos, Paros, Lesbos and Chios. After a shipwreck, he was able to reach Troy, visited Tenedos island and reached Istanbul in November 1591.
It is possible, but not certain, that Sommer made another journey, from Istanbul to eastern Thrace, Thessaloniki, Athens and Corinth. It can be established that in April 1592 he sailed from Ragusa to Italy, and subsequently arrived home by way of Switzerland. His travel account was published posthumously in 1649 and again in 1661, in an edition almost identical to the first. Curiously, the 1664 edition places the journey in 1640-1642 that is, when the author was already deceased.
The last part of the text includes some exaggerations, as well as place names impossible to identify, which poses the question of whether this is an authentic travel account. Besides repeating stereotyped historical and geographical information, Somer describes the forty days he spent at Crete (in Chania, Heraklio, Gortyn and and Rethymno), and learned Greek. He also provides original details from his tour of Rhodes, showing himself to be an insightful traveller, who however could not help comparing every place he visited to his homeland.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou