Finding Florence

 The Classical Grand Tour 1650 – 1789

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Map of Florence, Saunterings in Florence. (1896). E. Grifi

The evolution of the guidebook in 19th century Florence begins in fact with a late 16th century phenomenon known as the Grand Tour. The Tour was a popular journey taken, most often by young aristocratic men and a small number of women, throughout Europe as a means of refining their education. This trip allowed them practical world experience to compliment their book knowledge of classical Greek and Roman history, European languages, fashion, court etiquette, and social customs. Of course, they also largely wanted adventure.

Italy, and Rome in particular, was the highlight of the journey. The tourist often went over the Alps, passer les monts, from France into Italy and followed an established circuit through the country. Starting in Bologna, a city that holds one of the oldest universities in the world, the travellers made their way to Florence before heading south to Rome.  

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Goethe in the Roman Campagna, 1787, Johann H. W. Tischbein

As right of passage, the trip was to prepare young men to work in a diplomatic position or government role. Their time abroad was to observe and learn about other countries and customs, while making the transition to adulthood. Guidebooks, focusing on Greek and Roman antiquity, were to be read at home in preparation for the Tour. These early guidebooks were often large dense works in multiple volumes and written in Italian – a language studied by many European aristocrats. Needing guidance and supervision, they were accompanied by servants and their tutor, who acted both as a chaperone and teacher. Tutors would act as personal guides through the art, architecture, history and theology they encountered along the way.

“There are so many Provincial Sicknesses and Diseases; as the Catarrhs of Genua, the Gout of Milan, the Hemorrhoids of Venice, the Falling Sickness of Florence, the Feavers of Rome, and the Goistre of Piedmont.” – Richard Lassels, 1670, The Voyage of Italy,

Travel was expensive, time consuming, and dangerous. Costing a small fortune of roughly £100 per year (equivalent to about £15,000 – £20,000 today) only the wealthiest people could participate in the Grand Tour. The trip often lasted three or four years, with longer stays in certain places according to the seasons, travel routes, or to study at renowned universities. Traveling on rough roads or sailing in tumultuous seas, hunger, bad weather, dodgy hotels, bandits and disease all threatened the Grand Tourist. But the desire for adventure was greater than the risks.