Tourism and Vacations under the Romans
Tourism industry could be listed among the countless inventions by the Romans. In the I° century after Christ, Rome counted beyond 1 million inhabitants; for this period an impressive number. City life has been exhausting and harmful for health ever since Roman times: overcrowding, traffic, confusion, noises, smoke caused stress and discomfort between the population. Those who could afford started to head for more relaxing places. Most of the well-to-dos had one or more country seats. These rural residences combined spaces dedicated to agriculture and inhabited by the farmer’s family and slaves with spaces for the leisure of the owners.
From the last centuries of the republican age on (II-I° century to.C.) Roman aristocrats started to build summer residences near the sea. They preferred the coastline near modern Naples because of its unique landscape and exquisite Greek cultural tradition as well as fot its relative proximity to the capital.
Along the littoral and on the main islands villas, palaces, lodges and spas rose. Here the exponents of the leading class spend their very exclusive holidays alternating healthy relax and worldy life. (www.sapere.it/tc/geografia/articoli/VilleRomane/VillaRoma.jsp).
In a certain sense this are the beginnings of modern holidays – a world leading industry of our days.
Beside these early forms of vacations we can also find the origin of a phenomenon later known as “Gran Tour”. The “grand tour” of the Ancient Romans (whose motivations were not dissimilar from those of 18° and 19 century namely the cultural education of the wealthy elite) started in Rome then lead to Naples (and Capri), the sea resort of the Ancient times. From here the travellers (rich, learned and refined members of the Roman society) proceeded towards Greece, which represented the antique world of the Romans.
They loved Athens and enjoyed to visit places where Socrates and Plato had lived like the Parthenon and the Acropolis. They ignored the Greek Islands, usually inhabited by shepherds and fishers.
They rather went to Asia Minor (the modern Turkey) one of the wealthiest provinces of the Roman Empire and famous for its spa sites. Stage of obligation of the travel in Asia Minor was the visit to the ruins of Troy.
Later on travellers took a ship to reach Egypt. Especially Alexandria represented an extremely exotic place for the Ancient Romans – a real cross roads between Africa, Asia and Europe.
The journey included a visit of the pyramids and a cruise on the Nile to have a look at the tombs along the river. Because of the logistics and means of transport used at that time, this kind of trip needed from 2 to 5 years.
Travellers used street and sea maps as the one drawn in the V century B.C. by an expert group appointed by Agrippa and may be even the Tabula Peutingeriana, more generally used for military purposes.
However travelling in Ancient times wasn’t an easy enterprise: subordinated to serious sometimes even incredible discomforts. Only very few people moved for fun. Neither the magnificent roads left by the Romans should deceive us since there existence was limited to Italian territory whereas the rest of the Empire had to live with generally bad roads. (Antichità Private dei Romani, Bassi e Marini, Ed. Hoepli 1924).
For journeys people used a mean of transport called raeda or reda, a real four wheel coach. Beside private coaches it was possible to rent a number of coaches. It seems that, like today, drivers had appropriate stations.
In spite of the aforesaid limitations, according to Australian author Tony Perrottet (author of the beautiful “Route 66 A.D. – On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists” http://www.route66ad.com), thanks to the map of Agrippa for the first time a population could imagine where several localities were placed geographically, and therefore gain an idea of the connections and the distances and ways to reach them. “The first era of tourism had begun”…
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