Greek dance at Paros.
Edition: CHOISEUL-GOUFFIER, M.G.F.A. comte de. Voyage pittoresque de la Grèce, v. ΙΙ, Paris [=1782]
Travellers from Western Europe visiting the Cave of Antiparos.
Edition: AULDJO, John, Esq. F.G.S. Journal of a Visit to Constantinople, and some of the Greek Islands, in the Spring and Summer of 1833, London 1835.
Tower at the Venetian castle of Parikia. The castle was built with marble architectural elements from the ancient town.
Edition: BOISSONNAS, Frédéric / BAUD-BOVY, Daniel. Des Cyclades en Crète au gré du vent, Geneva 1919.
A woman from Paros.
Edition: NICOLAY, Nicolas de. Le Navigationi et viaggi, fatti nella Turchia… Novamente tradotto di Francese in Italiano…, Venice 1580
A view of Naoussa.
Edition: PERILLA, Francesco. Les îles de la Grèce, Athens 1935.
Travels by European travellers
in the Eastern Mediterranean
Text: Ioli Vingopoulou, Historian PhD – Researcher | Photos: Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation
People, Herodotus has told us, travel for three reasons: political-military, commercial or religious reasons. Till the end of the Middle Ages, journeys by Europeans were undertaken mainly for military and commercial purposes or as pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher or other Holy Shrines.
From the 15th to early 20th century, the West Europeans visit the Eastern Mediterranean for a variety of other reasons as well: out of love and interest for the historic sites, for scientific reasons or for pleasure. Their travel accounts, frequently enriched with plates, have influenced both the history and the national conscience of the Greeks who, at that time, were under Ottoman or Latin domination.
The way the European travellers “perceived” the Greeks is, in fact, the manner Europe “perceived” or sought to get acquainted with, admire, make a claim on or even help the “Greek world”.
Since the 17th century, there gradually emerges an archaeological interest in travels to Greece. At the same time, many wealthy Europeans assemble outstanding collections of ancient artworks coming from the broader space of the Greek civilization. Many of these collections have ended up at major museums in European cities. In the 18th century, in Europe there flourished the spirit of neoclassicism along with a novel interest in contemporary Hellenism. In the 19th century-with the advances in travel means- the journeys take on a scientific character, they are aimed at specific goals and the travellers often get involved in political affairs.
Finally, in the 20th century the interest of European travellers returned to the point at which the history of the Greek world had begun: to nature and myth, and certainly to an unfathomable space of new visions.
In the first centuries of journeys to the East, Paros had almost never been the destination of West Europeans. Gradually from the 18th century onwards, the fame for the “Parian marble”, the Europeans’ antiquarian interests, its strategic position in the sea routes in the period of war conflicts sent many travellers to the island for on the spot searches. When Paros became part of the newly founded Greek state, many artists (painters, photographers) visited the island, bequeathing outstanding views to us.
Paros, like the other islands “appears” in maps and geographical works as early as the 15th century. Thus, in the first isolario –a book with maps of islands accompanied by a historical-geographical text– we can find the oldest map of Paros. Its creator was Cr. Buondelmonti (1420) who drew the map and wrote the accompanying text. In the coming two centuries there have been no significant changes in the isolarii for the Aegean Sea –either handwritten or printed. They all include maps of Paros, with some variations in the mapping and the engraving, accompanied by brief explanatory texts about the island.
In 1563, however, we have a travel account by the French geographer N. de Nicolay, who was a member of the entourage of the French ambassador in the capital of the Ottoman Empire. This work included 60 plates of human types, including the “Young woman from Paros”, the first image we have of the costume worn by the island’s women.
This picture was reproduced and circulated in numerous versions, in later travel books, almost till the end of the 18th century.
About one century later in the decade of 1670, the French ambassador to the Sublime Porte, marquess De Nointel who passed from Paros on his way to Constantinople was the first to go inside the Cave of Antiparos. He was so deeply impressed that he decided to celebrate Christmas in the cave. His entourage and the islands’ inhabitants were assigned the task to decorate and lighten up the stalactites and stalagmites, while an inscription on the entry has commemorated the event. Since then visits to the Cave of Antiparos by foreign travellers as well as illustrations of it became a popular subject, as we can see in several travel accounts, till the late 19th century.
However, it was the groundbreaking work (1717) of the distinguished French doctor and botanist J. Pitton de Tournefort that gave us the first comprehensive picture of Paros and the other Aegean islands: history, economy, cultivations, products, antiquities quarries, monasteries, the people, everyday events and all the local sights. The information supplied by Tournefort –a panorama of the ancient world and also an analytic presentation of the contemporary Greek society– was used and copied by many later travellers. Since the 18th century and in later years as well, we have several excerpts of travel accounts about Paros. The European travellers describe the demographic situation, the island’s products, they meet people –like Mavrogenis who played a leading role in the local affairs– they refer to the customs. It is also noteworthy that they give details about the dances and their importance for the life of island’s inhabitants. Especially, the French nobleman M.G.F.A comte de Choiseul-Gouffier whose three volume book expresses the antiquarian as well as the emerging philhellenic spirit, in his renowned engravings includes one depicting a “Greek dance at Paros”. This engraving has been reproduced and circulated widely in numerous editions.
Most travellers mention the fragments of reliefs and architectural elements they see incorporated in houses or other buildings, but almost all of them focus on the “Parian marble”, employing their knowledge of ancient Greek and Latin texts. Only few visits to the quarries themselves were made by travellers with antiquarian or natural science interests. Foreign visitors see the quarries as a mythical place, the womb that gave the marvelous marble for the birth of the ancient Greek sculpture masterpieces.
However, the abandonment of the quarries along with expectations for a revival of Antiquity have driven some enthusiastic visitors- mainly French travellers- to call for a follow up to the marble extraction.
At the same time, drawings and a detailed list of the ancient Greek monuments-including the Paros quarries- stand out in the work of the British travellers J. Stuart and N.Revett (1753).
To the Englishman Ed. D. Clarke, we owe an extensive description of the quarries, an analysis of the composition of the Parian marble along with the expression of his admiration for the technology of the ancient quarrymen. However, the foreign travelers’ interest was not limited to pure enthusiasm merely but extended to the acquisition of antiquities to enrich their own collections or give them as presents to sovereigns or sell them.
Since the late 18th and in the 19th century when Paros has become part of the Greek state, many landscape painters visit the island. Their works are not accompanied by explanatory texts but they are kept in libraries and museums as drawings, oil paintings or watercolours. They are works of exceptional sensitivity, focusing on the landscape, the town of Parikia or memorable sights.
In the 20th century the foreign travellers supplement their accounts with photographs, drawings, engravings and paintings. The renowned Swiss photographer Fr. Boissonnas (1919) managed to mingle the beauty of the landscape with the monuments and the details of the location. Finally, both the travel account and the accompanying illustrations (wood engravings, coloured aquarelle reproductions and photographs) by the Italian Fr. Perilla show his artistic sensitivity and his enthusiastic love for Paros. During this long period, spanning almost five centuries, the travel accounts and the pictorial material attached to the texts written by West European travellers shed light on the manner Europe “perceived”, understood Greece, on how it mingled wishes or memory and vision with expediency or material interests to make its claim on the Greek space.
Thus, in these works we can “read” the way Paros and other destinations in the Aegean, all parts of the Greek world history, were approached and described as the travellers perceived them, in a broader cultural and political context. However, we can always discern their desire to match their dreams of the place with the reality before them and that’s what all travellers, even today, look for.