New Transportation & New Travellers

Locomotion: Travelling by Train

Middle-class travel on a large scale would not have been possible without the speed and ease of train travel. With the completion of railway lines throughout Europe, travel became faster, less dangerous, and more comfortable. For the Italian states, railways had been running since the 1840s, but their routes were often unnecessarily complicated because the states were still independent and would not be unified for another 20 years.

In 1861, the states joined to make the Kingdom of Italy. Railways helped to connect the fragmented sections of Italy together and by 1866 the line between Florence and Rome was complete and the railway had doubled to 4,000 km of track. Guidebooks provided the traveller with the means to navigate this new transportation system with maps, timetables, and routes between cities. Better connected than ever, Florence saw increasing trade and tourism throughout the rest of the 19th century.

Americans in Italy

An American Motto – “The motto makes the man”, 1846, Enrico Montazio

The late-19th century also saw an increase in visitors from America. Leisure travel was a fairly new activity for Americans, but business and property owners with the means to do so sought European culture as a way of demonstrating their refinement. Many well-to-do Americans made the journey to get a taste of European culture – and to climb the social ranks after they had returned home. American tourists followed the well-beaten path that their earlier European travelers had laid out, taking advantage of an already fully formed tourist industry ready to cater to their needs.

Others went to Italy for a glimpse of beauty and inspiration. Writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain all came to see first hand what awed their contemporaries, writing journals and diaries of their experiences. American artists, historians, and art lovers alike also flocked to Florence to see the city’s famous buildings and cachets of art, paying particular attention to the Tribune Gallery at the Uffizi. They would later return home and use these experiences to influence American literature, art, and architecture.

Wandering Women

“It was especially interesting to us to find that all educational institutions in Italy are freely open to women are precisely the same terms as men, even including the classical schools and universities” – Eva Channing, Boston Women’s Journal, 1891

Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]
Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, (c.1790-1791), John Opie, oil on canvas
Historically, it was believed that women should stay at home, perfecting their domestic skills. Travelling, an activity done away from home and all of its social constraints, was too dangerous, immoral, and unbecoming for women. Despite being a social faux-pas, the early Grand Tour did see some female travellers thanks to a few daring women – such as freethinker Mary Wollstonecraft.

However, only in the 19th century did a larger number of women begin to travel for their own leisure. Travel was particularly liberating for women because they were able to gain a measure of freedom and escape the strict restraints placed on them at home. Slowly progressing ideas about women and advancements made in the speed and comfort of travel gave women greater opportunities to explore.

The women who sought adventure often read the same travel literature as men. Larger numbers of travelling ladies caught the attention of publishers in Florence and soon some guidebooks included information specifically targeting women. Guidebooks informed ladies where to purchase female fashion, while others even advised on educational institutions that allowed women to study. More female travellers also produced their own travel accounts, giving a different perspective on what Florence had to offer.


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