“Re-thinking Tourism: visitors to nineteenth-century Naples and the consumption of feeling”

“Re-thinking Tourism: visitors to nineteenth-century Naples and the consumption of feeling” in Shinobu Majima and Toshio Kusamitsu (eds.), The Genealogy of Curiosity and Material Desire (NTT, Tokyo, Japan, 2014). Original publication in Japanese.


The Houghton Library at Harvard University contains one of the most unusual surviving sources for nineteenth tourism, the visitors’ book for the Neapolitan volcano, Mount Vesuvius, for the years 1826-1828 (Mss. Ital.139).   The only extant volume in what were a whole series of visitors’ books, its 150 odd folios list the names, comments and criticisms in four main languages – English, Italian, French and German – of visitors to the Hermitage, a small dwelling, where travelers rested, ate and sometimes slept before embarking on the final hour or so journey on foot up the volcano.   The book is a difficult and incomplete source marred by a variety of terrible hands, blotted and crossed out comments and by excisions and page removals. It is by no means a full inventory of those who climbed the volcano – we know of many instances when visitors failed to sign the book – but it is the most precise and the most revealing evidence I know of ‘tourism’ in nineteenth-century Italy.


The book enables us to reconstruct both a profile of the visitors and a picture of their attitudes and views. Between mid-December 1826 and the end of October 1828, I have identified a total of 2072 visitors to the volcano. About half were British; 20 percent were women, and there were always a good number of children, especially among the French. If we exclude the months of July and August, when there were almost no visitors to Vesuvius because of the summer heat, then over one hundred and ten visitors a month climbed the volcano.   There was a high season – during September and October for the Italians and during the winter months up to Easter for everyone else – and the number of visitors shot up when an eruption began, as in March 1828, when one hundred and thirty five people climbed the mountain in the course of three days. (21-23 March).   This is hardly mass tourism, but it cannot have entailed the pleasures of solitude.



The Visitors’ Book reveals a remarkably heterogeneous band of visitors, many of whom identified themselves by their city or canton of origin. (The British were exceptions who, when they did identify themselves, tended to record either their military rank or their Oxford and Cambridge college; when an Englishman indicated a town, it was a sure sign that he ranked below a gentleman.)   There were visitors from St Petersburg, from towns in the Ukraine, Greece, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark; Frenchmen came from Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Lille and Rouen. Germans, some of them tourists, others military men, came from as far north as Hamburg, but also from Berlin, Mainz, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Augsburg, Karlsruhr, Koln, Hanover, Stuttgart, and the university town of Gottingen.   North Americans included visitors from New York, New England, Boston, Philadelphia. Baltimore and Hartford, Connecticut.

Heading the visitors was a cross-section of the European aristocracy and gentry. British toffs included the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Carnarvon, Lord and Lady Howard of Effingham, Lord and Lady Bentinck (a family with a special interest in Naples), Italian aristocrats included such illustrious figures as Prince Caracciolo and the Duc de Serra from Naples and Comte de Concina from Rome. First among the Polish, Ukrainian and Russians was the Princess Obolenski, who climbed Vesuvius on February 13, 1827 with a guide and two of her daughters. Other aristocratic visitors came from France, Portugal, Spain, Germany and Austria

British admirals, Neapolitan generals, together with Austrian, Swiss, and German officers of every stripe were numerous.  Otherwise, a great many visitors belonged to the professions. Not surprisingly there were artists (from Paris, London, Germany and Piedmont), architects (from Poland, Germany, France and Greece), and mineralogists (from Britain, Germany and Italy).   But there were also doctors (from Russia, Germany and France), British clerics and continental priests, language teachers and guides, engineers (both civil and military) and a party of Italian professors of “lettore”.

It is rather more difficult to trace members of the merchant and business classes, as they were more inclined to identify themselves by their city than their calling.   But there were traders and shopkeepers from Liverpool, Hull and Glasgow, and Milan, two British tradesmen from Genoa, as well as an entire group of Italian Jewish merchants who went up the volcano together. Finally, there were the parties of diplomatic representatives from Britain, France and Piedmont.

What drew this steady stream of visitors to the volcano?   It might seem self-evident that the natural spectacle of a simmering volcano would be an obvious object of attraction, but it is important to note that this was not the case before the late eighteenth century. Though the volcano was visited by some grand tourists and by savants interested in it as an object of intellectual inquiry, it was only late in the century that visitors came to the volcano in any numbers and continued to do so into the nineteenth century.   Part of the explanation lies in the activity of the volcano itself: as this diagram shows, for much of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Vesuvius was in a more or less constant state of low level eruption, making it both spectacular but relatively safe. . The experience in 1820 of the Irish novelist and travel-writer, Lady Morgan, was typical. “The mountain”, she wrote, “though it never raged with that fury which adds alarm to admiration, was sufficiently active to excite an incessant interest”

But equally important in explaining the attractions of the volcano were changes both in the composition of travelers to Italy and in the aims and objects of such journeys, a shift from the pursuit of the classics by young men, to the pursuit of replenishment and self-knowledge by people of both sexes and all ages.

The classic grand tour of the eighteenth century was just that – classical. The Grand Tour, like most travels, was highly scripted, and the script that was followed was that of classical literature, its poets, historians and naturalists. The landscape, the environment, statuary and antiquity were there as the means of both recognizing textual allusion and of better understanding works of classical literature, which in turn, were the means to best understand the values of the ancients.   As Lord Chesterfield put it in one of the famous letters to his son: “View the most curious remains of antiquity with a classical spirit, and they will clear up to you many passages of the classical authors”.   The travelers pocket guide book was the classical text of Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus or the Roman poets.   The Irish clergyman, Martin Sherlock, on his tour of 1778-9, wrote that his greatest pleasure was to have “his Horace in one pocket, and his Virgil in the other, and to look at a thousand objects which have been painted by these masters”. Contemporary Italy was of little interest – except logistically – and was often treated with contempt. Thomas Pelham wrote in 1777 that “Italy would be a delightful country if there were not so many Italians”.

This is Italy as classical pastiche. Thus Joseph Addison, in his account of Naples and Vesuvius in his much used Remarks on Several Parts of Italy in the years 1701, 1702, 1703 stitches together a palimpsest of texts: Horace, Virgil, Statius’s Silvae on villas, Ovid, Martial; his most modern literary allusion is to the late fifteenth-century Neapolitan poet Sannagarius.   Admiring the Bay of Naples provoked thoughts of Horace; contemplating and climbing Vesuvius (not a high priority for the classical tourist) was chiefly interesting because its eruption of AD 79 had killed the elder Pliny, the author of the great classical natural History.   Most visitors to Campania were more interested in the area to the west of Naples, the Phlegraean Fields, whose volcanic landscape was far richer with allusion to classical literature: it was purportedly where Hercules fought against a band of local giants; and where, according to Virgil (whose tomb was nearby), Aeneas encountered the Cumaen Sybil and gained passage to the underworld.   Addison’s account was quite typical in that it did not contain any lyrical account of the beauty of the Bay – an absolute cliché in the early nineteenth century – and conveyed very little sense of Naples as a place to be observed.   There was no need for such a description because the environment had already been described by the classical authors.

The centre of the classical Grand Tour was Rome, the capital of the empire, the home and first subject-matter of its authors, and the site of the most spectacular antiquities.   Naples, the pleasure-ground of great Romans, was for the grand tourist a side-show – a place to rest and recuperate in the winter between successive visits to the ancient capital.   But in the late eighteenth century Naples became a much more important tourist destination, and by the mid-nineteenth century it had begun to rival if not replace Rome as the most desirable destination in Italy. As the author of The English in Italy, a three-volume travelogue that masqueraded as a novel, put it, “the Smelfungus” of old, the classic visitor, preferred Rome, but the modern traveler preferred Naples for its pleasure and “delight”.

This shift in taste had two sources – the cult of sensibility, which emphasized (and praised) the capacity of individuals to exercise sympathy and explore their own feelings through contact with the unfamiliar and strange, whether it be wild landscape, the remnants of lost civilizations, or charming natives; and the development of a picturesque aesthetics that provided a visual syntax in emotion, so that waterfalls and torrents, dark woods, rich pastureland or, indeed, the bleak landscape of volcanic ash were seen as objects of both art and feeling. The process was a complex one that did not necessarily entail the rejection of classicism, though it did reject the fetish of reliance on classical texts rather than the direct experience of objects. Commentators made fun of Joseph Addison, who was mocked by Laurence Sterne in his Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768) for his satchel of books, and disparaged by Tobias Smollett as “a commentator on the classics rather than as a writer of travels”.   By the early nineteenth century this criticism had become something of a cliché, most eloquently expressed in Madame de Stael’s bestselling novel cum travelogue about Italy, Corinne, or Italy (1806).   As one of her protagonists argues:


“Readings in history, the thoughts they provoke, do not act upon our souls like these scattered stones, these ruins interspersed with buildings. Eyes are all-powerful over the soul; once you have seen Roman ruins, you believe in the ancient Romans as if you had lived among them. The mind acquires its memories through study; the imagination’s memories are born of a more immediate and deep-seated impression that gives life to thought and makes us into a kind of witness to what we have learned”.   Stendhal put it more pithily: “ one has the sense of being transported into antiquity, and, so long as one has the habit of trusting only one’s eyes, instantly knows it better than any scholar”.

Put in a nutshell these changes are best understood as connected to a new (and less specific) notion of travel in Italy. In the Romantic era Italy becomes less a window into a better past (classical antiquity and renaissance art) and more the place in which to explore a series of feelings about oneself.   Italy, present day Italy, becomes a laboratory in which to explore emotions and oneself.

Though this is not quite the same thing, such motives for travel were also connected to the notion that the object of travel was refreshment, renewal, an enrichment of the self though an escape from the ordinary, quotidian and dull.   This is very different from the young man’s grand tour, which was not a period of refreshment (no matter how eagerly young men pursued sexual experience), but a rite of passage between school and university, dominated by the classics, and the later assumption of civic and political responsibilities which very often included marriage.   The modern notion of travel as a form of rejuvenation was first developed in the Romantic era; just as the notion that Italy was the best place for a person of taste to accomplish this was repeatedly endorsed in this period.

No one put this idea better than Samuel Rogers, author of the very successful verse tribute, Italy, a Poem, published in 1830:

No sooner do [men] enter the world than they lose that taste for natural and simple pleasures, so remarkable in early life…Now travel, and foreign travel more particularly, restores to us in a great degree what we have lost…All is new and strange. We surrender ourselves, and feel once more as children”.

In this view the value of travel is experiential.   Again in Rogers’ words:

Would he who sat in a corner of the library, poring over books and maps, learn more or so much in the time, as he who, with his eyes and his heart open, is receiving impressions all day long from the things themselves? How accurately do they arrange themselves in our memory, towns, rivers, mountains; and in what living colours do we recall the dresses, manners, and customs of the people!   Our sight is the noblest of all our senses. ‘It fills the mind with most ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues longest in action without being tired’. Our sight is on the alert when we travel; and its exercise is then so delightful, that we cannot forget the profit in the pleasure.”

Observation, witnessing, direct experience, emotional response – all of these had higher priority than book-learning.   And as a result, the response to Italy’s antiquities and landscape became increasing aestheticized and expressed in emotive terms.  The act of having those feelings became more and more important as sentiment, aesthetics, emotion come to the fore.


Seen from this perspective Naples was an exceptionally rich site.   The juxtaposition of the beautiful (often referred to as picturesque) Bay of Naples with the sublime, all powerful and violent volcano, offered the visitor the full range of emotional and aesthetic experience.   At night the tourist could marvel at the sublime vision of Vesuvius’s glowing lava and periodic spurts of flame.   In the daytime they could climb through fields and vineyards of luxuriant fertility on the lower slopes, until they reached the black, lifeless bleakness that surrounded the volcanic crater, and peer down into its bubbling, violently coloured, turbulent core. The routine was well scripted and much commented upon.   The Irish clergyman, Martin Sherlock, in his Letters of a Traveller (1781) described the view from top of Vesuvius as “the most perfect union of the sublime and beautiful in nature”. Mrs. Hester Piozzi wrote in the winter of 1785 of Vesuvius: “One need not stir out for wonders, while this amazing mountain continues to exhibit such various scenes of sublimity and beauty”. This was the place that Goethe described as: “This peak of Hell which towers up in the middle of paradise”. So the journey up the mountain and into the volcano played out what had long been a trope of the Bay of Naples as a place of contrasts, exceptionally gifted by nature – not least in the rich soils produced by the volcano – but also blighted by natural disaster, misrule and human failure.   The object of the journey was to experience this contrast directly, to stare into the crater, to be surrounded by a deathly landscape, and then to turn back and look down over the Bay of Naples, to admire its fecundity.

Similar sentiments were repeatedly expressed in the Visitors’ Book: one Frenchman described the journey up Vesuvius as crossing “le grand partage” (“the great divide”), and one British visitor, the Hon.R.H. Clifford, remarked that “The idea of horribly beautiful is explained when you reach the verge of the crater of M. Vesuvius”.

In October 1828, John Gartley recorded that “This grand and formidable mountain afforded me the sublimest pleasure I have yet felt – how beautiful and awful are the workings of the volcano”. Italian and Francophone visitors were even more forthcoming.   They praised the “elegantissimo spectacolo” of the eruption, wrote about the terror, wonder and delight they experienced before “the terrible Master of Nature” or the “orendo Vulcano” which threatened to “submerge” the world. One Italian visitor claimed that, “it is impossible to explain how much this beautiful terror pleased me.” A Frenchman who entered the crater called it “the Heart of Our Fate” and described Vesuvius as “the eternal Arbiter” making “of the sky a hell, and of hell a sky”. Five visitors from Campo Basso recorded that they “remained stupified by the repeated shocks, and by the balls of smoke, and flames that this visible inferno erupted”; others “admired the immense force of nature and its admirable effects”.

The contrast between the beauties of the bay and the sublimity of the volcano was scripted as an occasion of moral reflection. “It must be acknowledged”, wrote the physician John Moore, “that we can hardly look around us, in any part of this world, without perceiving objects which, to a contemplative mind, convey reflections on the instability of grandeur, and the sad vicissitudes and reverses to which human affairs are liable; but here those objects are so numerous and so striking, that they must make an impression on the most careless passenger”.

These thoughts of the power of nature and of the fragility of human existence were, of course, reinforced by the progressive unearthing of the ruins of Pompeii. Indeed, it cannot be sufficiently emphasized how much the uncovering of the buried city shaped visitors’ experience of climbing the grumbling volcano. Though both Herculaneum and Pompeii were first discovered before the mid-eighteenth century, it was only by the early nineteenth century, and largely because of the excavations pushed forward by the French King of Naples, Joachim Murat, and his wife Caroline, the sister of Napoleon, that it became clear that what had been unearthed was a new vision of antiquity – not just a series of important artifacts and beautiful antiquities but the abundant material traces of an entire antique way of life accessible through sympathy rather than scholarship. As Bulwer-Lytton, the author of the best-selling, The Last Days of Pompeii, published in 1834, explained,

Pompeii was the miniature of the civilization of that age. Within the narrow compass of its walls was contained, as it were, a specimen of every gift which luxury offered to power. In its minute but glittering shops, its tiny palaces, its baths, its forum, its theatre, its circus – in the energy yet corruption, in the refinement yet the vice, of its people, you beheld a model of the whole empire. It was a toy, a plaything, a showbox, in which the gods seemed pleased to keep the representation of the great monarchy of earth, and which they afterwards hid from time, to give to the wonder of posterity.

What fascinated visitors was not just the Pompeiian wall paintings and lewd graffiti, but the evidence of the everyday – the famous loaf of bread that remained in an oven, the ring marks on a counter top made by glasses, the plethora of utensils for mundane tasks – the identifiable ordinariness of it all. William Clarke, remarked that “towards acquainting us with the habitations, the private luxuries and elegancies of ancient life, not all the scattered fragments of domestic architecture which exist elsewhere have done so much as this city”.

It is notable that the many works of archaeology included not only precise drawings of findings, but imaginative reconstructions of what daily life in Pompeii would have been like.   As Goran Blix points out in his study From Paris to Pompeii (2009): “The major publications of engravings from Pompeii testify to the instant and un-canny character of archaeological resurrection: Saint-Non, Francois Mazois, William Gell and Carl Weichardt all drew sumptuous recreations right beside their drawings of the actual ruins.”

The second source of fascination was the bodies. The practice of making plaster casts of the impressions of victims in the ash did not begin until the 1860s, but from the late eighteenth century, visitors were fascinated by the human remains. Visitors repeatedly referred to a famous exhibit (which no longer survives) in the Royal Palace Museum at Portici of what one excited American tourist described as “the mold of a Woman’s breast of a beautiful shape and with some piece of linen yet adhering to it”. First reported in 1763, commented on by the French traveller, Dupaty (1789), and by the writer, Chateaubriand (1804), this fragment inspired Theophile Gautier to write his story of necrophilic fetishism, Arria Marcella (1852), in which a young man falls in love with the impression of the hip and bosom of a Pompeiian victim from the Villa of Diomedes.

The experience of visiting both Pompeii and Vesuvius – and by the early nineteenth century they were inextricably connected – excited both sympathy for the dead – as Dr John Moore put it, “It is impossible to view these skeletons, and reflect on this dreadful catastrophe, without horror and compassion”, – and reflections on the transitory nature of life. As Hester Piozzi, had put it some years earlier: “How dreadful are the thoughts which such a sight suggest! How very horrible the certainty that such a scene may be acted all over again tomorrow”.   In Samuel Rogers’ poem, Italy (1830), the visitor and the ancient victim share a common fate:

A waking dream awaits us. At a step

Two thousand years roll backward, and we stand,

Like those so long within that awful Place,


There is a sense that the modern tourist will eventually share the same fate as the classical victim. The visitor to Pompeii is suffused with a sense of impending doom.

After the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the potential violence of Vesuvius was often associated, especially by French visitors, with the sense that the social fabric could be ripped apart by a sudden major catastrophe. Nature was a model for culture.   The evidence to be observed at Pompeii was not of a culture and its material manifestations as gradually eroded by time, but of rupture, catastrophe, and sudden obliteration. The city, to use Constanze Baum’s distinction, contained ruins of suddenness rather than ruins of duration.

The volcano, the antiquities and the beauty of the Bay offered the romantic tourist not just a stage but an incredibly powerful set of props with which to enact and express their feelings.   But sentiment requires as much instruction as erudition, so that despite the hostility to reading, the romantic or sentimental tourist was rarely without a literary prompt to tell them how to perform/react/respond to the places they visited.   It was just that works of classical history and literature were replaced by modern fiction and poetry. Of course the early nineteenth century saw a huge proliferation of guidebooks to Italy – more than two hundred in the first half of the century – before the dominance of Murray and Baedeker. But these mainly practical guides, vital as they were, were dwarfed in importance by two literary works, Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-18) – quoted on more than one occasion in the Vesuvius visitors’ book, and Madame de Stael’s Corinne, or Italy (1807), whose most important dramatic scene – in many respects the fulcrum of the novel – takes place on the volcano. As James Buzard, in Beaten Track, European Tourism, Literature, and the ways of culture, remarks, Byron’s verse “provided an ennobling repertoire of poetical attitudes which tourists could strike in many places abroad”. John Murray, Byron’s publisher, and producer of the most popular England language guides of the nineteenth century, published a pocket-sized Byron’s Poetry, “so as to enable travelers to carry it with their other handbooks”.   Madame de Stael’s extraordinarily popular novel, Corinne, with its triangulated relationship between a British aristocrat, a French noble, and Corinne, an Italian (who turns out to be half British) and which was published in Paris, and then in London, Berlin, New York and Boston within a year of its first appearance, was widely used by tourists as a guide to how to respond emotionally to Italy. As Anna Jameson put it in her, Diary of an Ennuyee (1826), it was “a fashionable vade mecum for sentimental travelers in Italy”.

The visitors to Vesuvius in 1826, 27 and 28, seem, in many respects to have followed the romantic script written for them by their distinguished literary predecessors.   They repeatedly commented on their moving sublime experience, their pleasure at being both terrified and safe, at being exposed to danger and the mighty forces of the mountain, and relishing the intensification of emotion this produced.

Contrary to the Romantic cliché of the virtues of solitude, the ascent of Vesuvius was all about the climb as a shared experience – one that intensified romantic attachments and that cemented friendship. The most striking feature of the journey up Vesuvius for most of the visitors was its importance as a means of expressing and solidifying important attachments – between men and women of the same nation, among groups of men, like army officers and sailors, who depended on one another for their safety both on and off the volcano, among friends and acquaintances, among families, and between lovers or husbands and wives.   The idea, as one French woman put it, was to “venire ensemble”. This explains why so many of the visitors to the volcano traveled in groups – six Italian professors of “lettore”, the entire Caracciolo clan of Neapolitan aristocrats, Rothschilds from three different cities, six geologists (obviously on a professional mission), groups of Italian gendarmes, Sardinian courtiers, Jewish merchants, British, Austrian and Swiss army officers, doctors, engineers, architects, a party of four French artists in May 1828, sailors from HMS Asia, HMS Pelican and HMS Mastiff, as well as the groups of families and relatives and co-nationals.   Occasionally this sense of collective solidarity was reinforced in the visitors’ book by framing, bracketing or putting a group in a box, like the “noisy Paddys” who climbed the volcano in September 1828, though few went as far as a large French party of visitors who pictured themselves as a constellation of names, like a map of the heavens.

These signs of solidarity were not just a matter of professional or national identity; they were, as many remarks make clear, closely bound up with the idea of friendship, especially among the young male visitors to Vesuvius. The Swiss soldier, Grutther, wrote of his journey with “his dearest friend, Joseph Villarosa”; in February 1828, Luigi Boncaglia of Imola described the struggle of climbing the volcano in snow and high winds with “mio ottimo Amico”, Giacomo Morelli of Verona.   Guiseppe Konig, a Swiss soldier whose brother was also serving in Naples, and who was often on the mountain, emphasized on more than one occasion that he climbed “not just for the spectacle of Vesuvius, but for the company of true friends”. His friend, Raffaele Garzia, confessed that his apprehension of the mountain was dispelled by the “perfect company” of the two brothers. Three Italian aristocrats described themselves as “tutti e tre”; another Italian, though disappointed in the view because of fog, was gratified to be “in unione di amabile compagnie”, while a party of French and Italian climbers in January 1828 wrote of “la grande satisfaction de la bonne compagnie”. To climb Vesuvius alone was generally seen as a diminished experience. In May 1828, a British gentleman recorded his disappointment at making the ascent alone: “The Honourable R.H. Clifford ascended alas alone not having the pleasure of society to sweeten the toils of ascent”, while a week later Richard Elwood after he had reached the summit, “drank a bottle of the Hermits Wine to the health of absent friends”.

The model here was Corinne and her British admirer, Oswald Lord Nelvil, in Madame de Stael’s novel: “Oswald and Corinne promised themselves the pleasure of ascending Vesuvius and felt an added delight in thinking of the danger they thus should brave together.”   The hermit’s book is full of couples – most married, some lovers – who climbed Vesuvius together. Two British sailors, for example, shared the journey with their lovers – George Lee with “sa chere amie la Belle Milanese” and RW Oakley with “sua Carolina”.   Of course it is not just danger that fuelled romantic passion. It was the power and force of the volcano itself, the way it ignited the energy and the enthusiasm, so much admired by de Stael, that fuelled desire and romance. The phlegmatic visitors turned fiery: they shouted, as one Savoyard did on the mountain, “Love conquers all”; the young men flirted and courted female visitors, wrote complements in the visitors’’ book.

So the Visitors’ Book seems to reveal an international community of tourists collectively engaged in performing their scripted task as tourists. But it reveals something more.   When a fully-fledged eruption began in March 1828 the disturbances of nature produced disturbances among the ever-growing number of tourists.   The British started quarreling with the Swiss; the Francophones with the Anglophones, the Swiss with the Neapolitans, and especially with the guides. Insults and national clichés were strewn through the book, including a rather ugly vein of anti-Semitism aimed at the Neapolitan Rothschild family. The conflict among the tourists on the volcano was, in fact, a rehearsal of a larger political conflict that was embedded in the history of southern Italy.   The presence of so many Swiss in Naples was explained by the recently failed constitutional revolution of 1820, which had been led by liberal aristocratic army officers. The King of Naples had replaced them with six regiments of Swiss mercenaries.   The Rothschilds had bankrolled the Austrian invasion of Naples that had ended the liberal revolution.   Many Neapolitans were in exile in Britain; and the British community in Naples was both liberal and a strong supporter of Italian unification. The abuse by the Swiss officers of the Neapolitan guides, who they claimed were cowards, afraid of the eruption, recalled the cowardice of the Neapolitan army when faced by its foes in 1820. In short, politics and the everyday intruded into a shared experience of tourism, disrupting its pleasures.

Perhaps one of the reasons why this occurred is because of the nature and composition of the Vesuvian tourist body.   There were, of course, many visitors to the volcano who came from far away, and some of these travelers were engaged in the sort of recreational travel we designate ‘tourism’. But a good many of those who came from great distances to Vesuvius were in Naples for other reasons. The Swiss were there to uphold absolutism; merchants and shopkeepers (chiefly French and British) were involved in trade; artists were there to study their vocation; the British long-term residents were there to study Neapolitan literature and culture; diplomats from many nations were engaged in political intrigue; sailors were en route to the East Mediterranean or the Atlantic. There were also significant retirement communities – of British soldiers and sailors who had come during their service to like the Mediterranean; of French soldiers and functionaries who had served under the Muratist regime; of Austrians who had once been in the army of occupation. For many of these visitors to the volcano their experience was not part of a ‘holiday’ but an opportunity created by other circumstance.

If we turn from our case study to look at the literature on tourism, we can see, I think, almost immediately the weakness of attempts to conceptualize the activity of recreational travel. Fundamental to this literature is a sometimes tacit occasionally explicit modernizing and democratizing historical narrative, in which tourism begins as an aristocratic activity (the Grand Tour), reaches a bourgeois audience in the age of Romanticism, and becomes a form of mass consumption with the advent of railways, public holidays, and leisure entrepreneurs like Thomas Cook in Britain and Carl Stangen in Germany. Secondly, the literature often attempts to provide a universal characterization or ideal type of the tourist, in much the same way as a great deal of the literature on consumption has been built around essentialist notions of the consumer. Thus we have the tourist as “the pursuer of authentic experience” or of “the romantic gaze”, just we have “the manipulated consumer”, the dreaming consumer”, “the identity creating consumer”, and so on.   Both of these concerns – with an historical narrative and with badging “tourists” – are not without some use and plausibility. To take our case study: visitors to Naples numbered in the hundreds in the eighteenth century, in the low thousands in the 1820s (6,000 or so) and had reached 60,000 by the last decades of the nineteenth century, but of course more does not mean the same; nor can the meaning and significance of tourism be reduced through the process that Arjan Appadurai has dubbed “metonymic freezing”, in which one characterization is made to stand in for a range of behaviours.

There are interesting echoes in the most recent work on tourism and travel, which has tried to move beyond the sort of stereotyping I have been criticizing here, and which connects in interesting ways with my case study of Vesuvius. There is now a great deal of data about recent travel and tourism, collected by the United Nations World Tourist Organization. These figures make clear that tourism is a substantial and important sector in the contemporary global economy, whose activities and fortunes are intimately bound up with those of economic activity as whole. Drawing from data from 190 countries, the UNWTO reported that in 2000 travel and tourism accounted for 11.7% of world GDP; 8% of world exports, and 8% of employment.   But the UNWTO statistics reveal a problem that lies at the heart of many tourist studies, namely the difficulty of distinguishing something called “tourism” from travel more generally conceived. Currently the UNTWO statistics for inbound international tourism use four categories: “leisure, recreation and holidays”; “Visiting Family and relatives, health, religion, other”; “business and professions”; and “not specified”.   In 2010 holidays accounted for about 50% of international tourism; visiting family etc 27%; business 15% and 7% other. The trend over the last ten years has been for the holiday category to shrink as a percentage of all tourism, and for the rather miscellaneous visiting family category to grow at its expense.   Moreover qualitative studies have indicated that these UNWTO categories are exceptionally porous, and that increasingly travel involves a combination of more than one, and often several of these factors.   We face then, something of a paradox. On the one hand, it does not seem difficult to identify homo touristicus, a species that comes in many stripes, but is easily spotted by its characteristic plumage, its habitat, appurtenances (notably the camera), and collective behaviours.   Nor is it difficult to identify fairly clearly defined commodities sold as ‘tourist experiences’ or ‘holidays’: two weeks with hotel and meals in Bangkok, for example. But it is increasingly clear that tourism and travel are not confined solely to commoditized leisure. Both tourism and travel seem to have different valences in societies where mobility of all sorts has become a commonplace of contemporary life.

In the social science literature, enhanced mobility and travel seem to have been added to the ever-expanding list of the features of modernity, however and whenever defined, and this situation has led anthropologists and sociologists (I am thinking particularly of James Clifford and John Urry) to try to rethink the questions of travel and tourism. Clifford has argued that if travel has become as much the norm as the exception, we should view ‘home’ as a nodal point rather than a fixed entity. As he puts it, “I am recommending not that we make the margin a new center (“we” are all travelers) but that specific dynamics of dwelling/traveling be understood comparatively.”   He is troubled by the anthropological assumption that cultures are somehow fixed and local, beginning his account with the story of an anthropologist setting out to work in a rural Egyptian village, ostensibly a prime example of a stable culture, who quickly discovers that all its residents, except for one individual who proudly boasts of his singularity in staying put, have either come from or are traveling to somewhere else. Hence Clifford’s conclusion that “It would be better to stress different modalities of inside-outside connection, recalling that travel, or displacement, can involve forces that pass powerfully through – television, radio, tourists, commodities, armies.” (28)

Clifford wants to place travel in the context of a history of cultural contact that he sees as fuelled by three large processes that complicate notions of human agency – the growth of global capital, the development of empires, and the waging of war.   “Virtually everywhere one looks”, he writes, “the processes of human movement and encounter are long-established and complex. Cultural centers, discrete regions and territories, do not exist prior to contacts, but are sustained through them, appropriating and disciplining the restless movements of people and things.”

John Urry, one of the most distinguished sociologists of tourism, has recently emphasized how the growth in mobility and travel in general, as well as the establishment of networks using new media, have begun to change the nature of tourism, so that recreational and social travel has become increasingly less distinct from other sorts of mobility.   In a world where families are dispersed, where people travel for work over long distances, and where migration, exile and emigration are a common experience, tourism has increasingly become implicated in extended kinship chains and networks of sociability, especially the sustaining or reinforcement of friendship. Urry refers to this as the “de-exoticising” of tourism, which he claims has become less associated with ‘time away’ and ‘time out’ than with the sustaining of on-going relationships at a distance, through periodic ‘face-to-face’ encounters. He takes the position of Franklin and Crang in their provocative essay, “the Trouble with Tourism and Tourism Theory”: “Tourism is no longer a specialist consumer product or a mode of consumption: tourism has broken away from its beginnings as a relatively minor and ephemeral ritual of modern life to become a significant modality through which transnational life is organized…it can no longer be bounded off as a discrete activity, contained tidily at specific locations and occurring during set aside periods”.

Urry and his co-researchers tend to assume that his re-formulated object of study is a relatively recent phenomenon, one, as I have indicated, connected to a notion of modernity. Clifford, on the other hand, seems to recognize that there is a deeper history of travel that goes back beyond the immediate past.   While I don’t want to get into the game of pushing ‘modernity’ further and further back in time – a stratagem that has been a major problem for consumer studies – it does seem to me that we can observe the sorts of trend identified by Clifford and Urry in the case of early nineteenth-century Italy and the Vesuvius visitors’ book.   The peculiar/particular pattern of tourist visitors to Vesuvius has everything to do with the Revolutionary and Napoleon wars (what David Bell has called the first total war), and the way in which it dispersed, divided and diasporized people throughout Europe and the Mediterranean littoral, as well as creating important differences that were political as well as national.   And friendship seems to have been an all-important part of Vesuvian tourism.

Of course Vesuvius and Pompeii were never sites integrated into the every day. The crater of Vesuvius was a terminus not a transit point, and there was no reason to make a deviation there except to see the volcano. Similarly there was no economic activity at Pompeii apart from tourism and archaeological investigation. Their status as canonical tourist sites was reinforced by Vesuvius’s suitability as a subject for the new technologies of the moving panorama and diorama, its spectacular nature and the ease with which it could represent change in time (large scale re-enactments of Vesuvian eruptions were staged in almost every major nineteenth-century Europe city in panoramas, pleasure gardens, dioramas and theatres), and by the way in which the historic site of Pompeii lent itself to modern (not classical) narratives, of which the most famous was Bulwer Lytton’s The Last days of Pompeii.

The case study of Naples and southern Italy seems to me to raise a number of important issues. First and foremost, it enables us to examine the processes by which places become “sites” of attraction, spaces that should be visited.   What makes a site desirable may, as in the Neapolitan case, change over time. (Today Pompeii remains an important site, but has largely been separated from Naples, where tourism has been in decline, largely because of the city’s association with organized crime.)   Secondly, it raises questions about the relationship between travel and so-called tourism. Organized tourism, of the sort associated with Thomas Cook, who led a large party of tourists to Naples and Pompeii in 1866, is easy to identify, and may have enjoyed a special salience in certain periods, but it should not be taken as paradigmatic of recreational travel as a whole. We need to bear in mind that patterns of work and travel make possible many different scenarios of leisure-time. Thirdly, it is important to disaggregate tourists, not just in the sense of different types of tourist activity or national origin (a common practice), but in terms of what they bring to their travels. Being a tourist requires the performance of certain rituals, not the abandonment of other beliefs and identities. And finally, it is important to treat sites as entities other than sites. Much contextualization of tourist sites concerns itself with the impact of tourism on the local economy. While an important issue, it is nevertheless also essential to treat the site as part of other circuits of power and knowledge, embedded in different social relations.



The history of tourism and the history of consumption have followed rather different paths that have only occasionally intersected.   The early focus of consumer studies was either on the early modern era, a pre-tourist age, or on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where the emphasis was on the emergence of mass consumption rather than on mass leisure.   From the 1960s to the 1980s, studies of leisure and recreation in the early modern and industrial eras focused on the commercialization of leisure, on the struggles of elites to propagate a notion of leisure as ‘rational recreation’ – and therefore as a sort of discipline or social control – and on the connection between organized mass recreation and the conflict over working hours and holidays. Recreation and tourism were placed within the context of class struggle. This research also spawned a number of social historical studies of nineteenth-century resorts and forms of organized recreation such as football.

At the same time, there was a lively debate within historical and sociological circles about the character and importance of tourism, prompted by Daniel Boorstin’s outspoken condemnation of the artificiality of tourism in his The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961).   These issues of authenticity and nostalgia and their place in tourism have persisted down to the present. [1] The object of such tourism, in this literature, is the pursuit of unmediated experience, a circumstance that seems to have been lost in the highly differentiated and deeply mediated realm of modern societies. What is sought is, in Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s terms, ”untouched history” or “untouched nature”.   For Dean MacCannell tourism is about this recuperation, it is what we might call ‘stalking the gemeinshaft’, a task that is both modern and doomed, for the authentic can only be pursued once it is identified and mediated or ‘marked’ as such.   For a sociologist like John Urry, in his enormously influential The Tourist Gaze (1990), this sort of tourism entails what he calls the ‘romantic’ gaze, one “in which the emphasis is on solitude, privacy and a personal, spiritual relationship with the object of the gaze”, and which he contrasts with a “collective gaze” that involves group immersion in present pleasures, tourism as a “sense of carnival”.   Urry’s distinction is socially inflected: romantic tourism is the realm of the middle and upper classes; collective tourism seen as demotic.

Along side these debates there emerged a loosely defined history or genealogy of tourism that charted the progressive democratization of travel as a leisure activity, beginning with the aristocratic grand tour and ending with modern mass tourism. A number of sociologists, notably John Towner, in papers published in Annals of Tourist Research, attempted to quantify this phenomenon, and to chart its changing features. Writing on the Grand Tour itself took almost no notice of this work, because its chief occupations were art historical or with the history of the aristocracy and British elites. A series of important art exhibitions laid out this celebratory story, of which the most important was the Tate Gallery’s Grand Tour. The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Andrew Wilton and Ilaria Bignamini (1997), and they were enforced by a series of detailed, empirically rich but analytically weak books by the historian Jeremy Black. Much of the material that underpins this historiography is being added to the Adam Matthew’s web site, The Grand Tour. (http://www.amdigital.co.uk/m-collections/collection/the-grand-tour/detailed-information/ ).   At the same time literary scholars, notably Chloe Chard and James Buzard, produced subtle and revealing readings of the travel literature – guides, memoirs and novels – that depicted the Grand Tour and European travel.

More recently – especially since 2000 – the analytic literature on tourism has shifted its focus, moving away from tourism tout court, and towards an analysis that examines travel more generally and sees tourism less as ‘time out’ than as embedded in certain social relations (see Urry and Franklin and Crang).   Such an approach bodes well for future historical work that needs to attend far more to complex sets of circumstances – local as well as global – that inform and explain what travelers in the past were up to.


Notes for further reading:


Harvard University, Houghton Library Mss Ital.139, The Visitors’s Book to Vesuvius, 1826-1828


Blix, Goran, From Paris to Pompeii: French Romanticism and the Cultural Politics of Archaeology (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)


Buzard, James, The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature and the Ways to “Culture” (New York, Oxford University Press, 1993)


Coltman, Viccy, Fabricating the Antique: Neoclassicism in Britain, 1760-1800 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006)


Chard, Chloe, Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand Tour: travel writing and imaginative geography 1600-1830 (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1999)


Clifford, James, Routes. Travel and Translation in the late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1997).


Davis, John Anthony, Naples and Napoleon: Southern Italy and the European Revolutions 1780-1860 (New York, Oxford University Press, 2009)


Ingamells, John, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997.


United Nations World Tourist Organization at www.unwto.org


Franklin, A and M Crang, “The trouble with tourism and travel theory”, Tourism Studies, 1, no.1 (2001), 5-22


Larsen, J., J. Urry & K.W. Axhausen, “Networks and Tourism. Mobile Social Life”, Annals of Tourism Research 34 (2007), 244-262.


Urry, John, “Social networks, travel and talk”, British Journal of Sociology 54, no. 2 (2003), 155-175.

[1] A valuable discussion is John Frow, ‘Tourism and the Semiotics of Nostalgia’, October 57 (1991), 123-151.

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