A Change of Pace

The Birth of Mass Tourism

With the Industrial Revolution came huge economic changes, particularly for the middle-class in Britain. Changes to technology and wealth significantly altered who had the means to travel for pleasure. By the 19th century, the middle-class made up 60% of tourists from Britain to mainland Europe. This change of social class also changed the demographics of tourism – the young aristocrat no longer ran show.

While wealthy middle-class Europeans joined the increasing number of tourists in Florence, they did not have the means or the time to travel for years like the upper-class. Instead, travelling was now done during a much shorter span of a few months, often during the summer when the weather was pleasant. To meet the needs of this new kind of tourist, guidebooks adapted to a change in timeframe and expense.

19th century Florentine guidebooks were written for readers who would have only a week or two to explore the city. Gone were the long-winded history lessons focused on classical antiquity; bulky volumes were now printed in much fewer numbers. Guidebooks now had to be designed to be read on-route. Some were even made small enough to be carried in a pocket. These new lighter editions were also outfitted with maps and images to help situate the reader in their physical surroundings. In addition to these visual cues, guidebooks also became easier to read with bolded titles, addresses, opening times and long lists of different services a traveler might need. Utility was key.

Without the assistance of a private tutor many middle-class tourists could not speak Italian. More and more guides were translated (from Italian) into French, English or German while others were written by native English speakers and published in common places of departure, such as London. Translated guides were not always identical in different languages as publishers would often alter certain aspects according to certain stereotypical ideas about nationality – most often seen in the advertisements. One might note more fashion ads in French editions or even that the author had altered their name to suit the audience. The tourist industry was beginning to understand and harness their new customers, adjusting guidebooks accordingly.

Visualizing Florence: Woodcuts & Engravings

Though guidebooks of the 18th century included woodcuts and engravings, it was not until the early 19th century when larger numbers of better quality images were added to illustrate the text. Pictures were added to give the reader a sense of wonder, an idea of the physical space and a better understanding of the architecture and artwork discussed. On the cover of every new edition, guidebooks promised new unseen images and maps to entice their readers.

In the style of Romanticism, images helped spur the imagination and presented picturesque vedute of Florence, serene and empty of people – giving a false sense of reality. Visitors could now more readily picture their destination, but the growing number of images also created expectations that could not necessarily be met. This phenomenon would only increase with the invention of photography.


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