Time Travel: History Is Repeating Itself. after the Sun, Sea and Sand Mass Tourism of the 20th Century, Travel to Sites of Historical Interest, One of the Prime Motivations Behind the Grand Tour, Is Back in Vogue. and, as Tom Chesshyre Discovers, Today's Historical Tourists Are Often Just as Well Educated as Their Forebears

Article excerpt

Between A-levels and university, I went with a few friends--all lads--on an island-hopping trip to Greece. It started with a couple of nights in Athens, followed by a week and a half of making it up as we went along, starting in the Cyclades islands.

Our trip was not--as you might imagine--entirely historically motivated. We'd read articles in glossy mags about great late-night parties, sleeping it off on the beach, meeting beautiful Greek goddesses (or at least the odd up-for-it British student). We were not, and this is a gross understatement, budding archaeologists with a firm grounding in the classics. So when we walked up the hill to the Acropolis, a little hungover, the reaction of Adam, our leading 'lad' (in the Loaded magazine sense) was predictable: "Bloody 'ell, it's just a pile of rocks." And: "Cor, get a load of her rocks!" as a cute Italian backpacker walked past.

Yet behind the bravado, we found ourselves taken in by the ruins: the architecture ("That's a Doric column. No it isn't. Yes it is!"), the stories ("So this is what the Elgin Marbles fuss is all about"), the sense of being at one of the birthplaces of democracy and Western civilisation--did Socrates, barefooted and in rags, wander over these very stones with all those 'know thyself' questions? In short, despite ourselves, we were officially Interested in History.

The Grand Tour

We were, without realising it, travelling down a well-beaten track. The origins of tourism as we know it can be traced to the Grand Tourists of the 18tb and 19th centuries, the ones whose graffitti can still be seen scratched on stones near the Parthenon, in tombs near the pyramids in Giza and on temples in Luxor. They travelled to complete their educations, to become more rounded gentlemen, and maybe have an adventure or two along the way--possibly with the great-great-grandmothers of the same Greek goddesses we were (without much luck) seeking. Byron, one of the best known Grand Tour gallivanters, spent several months in Athens in 1810-11, 'finding himself' and spending borrowed money. His companion, John Hobhouse, caught the clap after an encounter in Cadiz. Byron himself seems regularly to have turned people down, including the 12-year-old daughter of his Athenian landlady.

Samuel Johnson, who travelled closer to home, in Wales and France, during the 18th century, put his finger on what made the Grand Tourists tour: "The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things might be, to see them as they are." Even if it was fleeting and unplanned, my friends and I had done just that.

This sense of discovery has been at the heart of tourism to a greater or lesser degree ever since. When Baptist cabinet maker Thomas Cook began offering rail outings to low-paid factory workers for a shilling a trip (very good value) during the 1840s--considered the first package holidays--it was out of a patriarchial urge to broaden their minds and keep them from the tavern. Cook later moved beyond Britain, taking his first paying guests to the Paris Exhibition of 1855. A decade later and he had spread his net as far as Eygpt; his Nile cruises, which Thomas Cook Holidays offer to this day, later helped to inspire Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile. Cook believed in 'rational recreation', and Egypt's wonders provided the perfect combination of travel excitement and historical interest.

Holidays into history

Present-day tour operators say that our curiosity about the past is still a big factor when we choose our holidays, But Paul Smith, company archivist at Thomas Cook (the only mainstream tour operator to employ such a person), believes tourism as the likes of Byron knew it began to change during the Edwardian years, when people started taking beach breaks, adopting a live-for-the-moment attitude in response to the looming threat of the First World War. In the 1960s, during Harold MacMillan's "You've never had it so good" years, that Edwardian sense of tourism as leisure found its form in Mediterranean sun, sea and sand holiday resorts. …


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