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Tourism Historiography Print E-mail

The modern CONCEPT of the word “tourism” emerged in England in the late 18th Century with the so-called “Grand Tour” fulfilled by the nobility and the incipient middle class as a result of the industrial revolution.

Taking into account the natural differences, from antiquity up until this period there is a series of events that can be catalogued as travelling activity. Even though throughout time we can find continuous evidence of trips and travellers, the actual meaning of travelling had subtle differences. In the first place, travelling was not fully enjoyed, but rather endured, given that the conditions in which they were carried out were uncomfortable, difficult and unsafe. Secondly, the journey was not an end in and of itself, but rather a means of arrival. Lastly, travelling was restricted to a small minority. In this great period up until the 18th Century, the reasons for travelling were closely related to commerce, to the search for goods for subsistence, to the need to improve living conditions, to the political wish for expansion and to the aspirations of rest and health that impelled the privileged classes.

It is in the Egypt of the Pharaohs where the conditions that make travelling necessary begin to arise. Making the journey from the city headquarters of the central Government to the peripheral territories becomes imperative; constant feature that will also take place in the Roman Empire. In order to accommodate the adventurers, travellers, pilgrims, explorers, seafarers, traders and soldiers, lodging centres are created and developed along the main roads and within the cities. The Romans were very fond of visiting temples and sanctuaries, as well as of attending festivities and baths such as the Carcalla or Cartago thermal baths, centres of rest and recreation. At this time itineraries were already available with some guides specifying the routes, names of roads, distances and travelling times between different points of the empire. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the invasion of the barbarians, the trips diminished until the Middle Ages, period which gives rise to a new tourist activity with the expansion of Christianity, which we can today call “religious tourism”. The pilgrimages to holy places, such as Canterbury, Santiago de Compostela, the Holy Land, Rome, etc., are an occurrence of the period, giving rise in the 14th Century to a “Traveller’s Guide” for pilgrims providing detailed information on the countries and regions they would travel over as well as on the type of lodging they could count on.

The Crusades arrived giving new momentum to the expeditions and contributing to revitalizing commerce as a consequence of the movement of soldiers, pilgrims and merchants transiting along the length and width of Medieval Europe. The flow of travellers reached such magnitude that in the year 1282 the owners of the principal inns of the city of Florence joined together to form the first guild of innkeepers with the aim of transforming the accommodations into a commercial activity.

The concept of travelling for pleasure does not appear until the end of the Middle Ages, specifically in the Italian Renaissance, and with the outset of the Modern Times. From this moment on, travelling takes a different purpose. The great maritime expeditions of the late 14th Century and up to the 16th Century served to widen the horizons of the period – the discovery of America and new areas of Africa and Asia – and to arouse the curiosity to see and experience other places and cultures. All these determinants gave origin to a new era of travelling.

According to the Italian historian and humanist Paston, travelling for pleasure becomes possible only with the onset of the 16th Century. The first books of the great travellers make their appearance in this period – editions from the late 16th Century to the 18th Century. Montaigne performs an extensive reflection on travel and Sir Francis Bacon, in the England of 1602, writes a very elaborated essay titled “Of Travel”, in which he considers that travelling should be a part of education in the young and a part of experience in the elder. The time period from the 16th Century to the 19th Century is the moment in which the bases for tourism as we know it today become established. The so-called “Grand Tour” is born, from which subsequently the term tourism will be derived. The young English nobility and middle class are advised to travel to the continent with the aim of completing their knowledge and gaining experience. These journeys started to become normal and lasted a period of one to three years, among other reasons, due to the precariousness of the transport.

The first important date in the history of tourism can be set in 1670 in the United Kingdom, year in which the term “grand tour” comes into use and which will be the seed for modern tourism. The traveller’s interest responded to an eagerness for knowledge and culture. This symbiosis led to the birth of the “grand tour” or travel around the Europe of the period, which became the symbol of education for young English aristocrats.

While the young were going on these great journeys, driven essentially by educational reasons, although in part also by an adventurous spirit, a special interest for the thermal baths was beginning to surge as a consequence of their healing properties, already known in antiquity. This interest extended into the 19th Century and was supported by the doctors of the period who also began to recommend them. Soon the spas began to organize entertainment events and those who went for healing purposes saw themselves joined by those who were looking for fun. At the end of the 18th Century, the thermal centres saw themselves replaced by the centres at the seaside with an increase in popularity of the ocean. This change in interest led to a new tendency, which has lasted until today.

The second half of the 18th Century up to the beginning of the 19th Century saw an important qualitative jump in the evolution of tourism. An economic and social transformation takes place in England as a consequence of the industrial revolution. There is a rise of a middle class that will slowly become more densely populated, creating new tendencies and needs, particularly regarding holidays. Furthermore, the rapid improvements that take place in transport leads to an increase in the number of people wishing to travel for pleasure. It is in this period when the term “tourism” is born.

*President of the Tourist Promotion Office of Santa Cruz de Tenerife



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21 August 2018




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