Cultural Tourism 1750-1850

An exhibition by graduating students of the Faculty of Humanities

9-14 July 2012

Roderic Bowen Library and Archives

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Ancient Romans admired the monuments of Greece and Egypt. Medieval pilgrims pioneered cultural itineraries such as the route to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. But cultural tourism did not really get going until the 18th century when tours of classical monuments and Renaissance towns in continental Europe became de rigueur for British aristocrats as a sort of coda to a classical education. By the late eighteenth-century these Grand Tours became more than a scholarly exercise in matching ancient ruins with classical texts. Instead they were openly talked about as a source of exotic pleasure and entertainment.

By the early 19th century middle-class professionals believers in progress were further extending their tours to include modern technological and engineering marvels: the sewers of modern Paris became as interesting as the aqueducts of ancient Rome. Among such professionals was the architect C.R. Cockerell, who designed the original building of St David’s College, Lampeter, and whose own Grand Tour lasted 7 years.

The invention of the printing process known as lithography at the end of the 18th century played an important role in the success of the “picturesque travel” genre but also in the development and transmission of scientific knowledge and of fields such as architecture and archaeology. Publishers, authors and printmakers cashed in on the Grand Tour by producing scholarly works, popular guidebooks and lavishly illustrated souvenir volumes. The RBLA has a significant collection of such works. Those on exhibition here were donated by Thomas Phillips (1760-1851) and have been chosen by the graduating students of the Faculty of Humanities as exempla of trends and curious ways taken by European travellers in the Grand Tour era. The chronological frame chosen, 1750-1850, coincides with the golden age of scientific journeys such as those of Charles Darwin and Alexander Von Humboldt, but also with the origins of archaeology following the spectacular rediscovery of Pompeii in 1744 that soon awoke the interest of European intellectuals such as Goethe and several generations of upper- and middle-class travellers from Britain and North Europe.

The selection of topics for the present exhibition exemplifies the remarkable historical and cultural value of – as well as the variety of themes represented in – the extraordinary RBLA collections: The Western view of exotic women from the Levant under the stereotyping prism of Orientalism; the reuse of ruins as images of picturesque decadence in engravings and book art; the symbolic representation of Graecia Capta, the classical theme of enslaved Roman and Ottoman Greece; Northern Italy as a Shakespearean stage, tour and destination of passionate readers and English middle-class travellers; Spain as an inhospitable yet fascinating crossroad of cultures and traditions, epitomised by three different locations which are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites today: the fabulous Alhambra as seen by Washington Irving, the Way of St James or Camino de Santiago, one of the most important Christian pilgrimage routes dating back to the Medieval ages, and the imposing Roman Imperial city of Tarraco (Tarragona).

This exhibition has been curated by the following graduating students:


  • Tom Derrick - Ancient History
  • Samantha Edwards - Medieval Studies.
  • Stefano Moschini - Classics and Film Studies
  • Rachael Pearce - Ancient History
  • Sam Bowen Williams - English Literature


With the collaboration of:

  • Pauline Hanesworth and Marta Garcia Morcillo


In March 1998 the Classical Association held its Annual Conference at Lampeter. Mr Anthony James Brothers (1938-2011), Assistant Lecturer, Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Classics 1964-2003, a great champion of the library's special collections, took advantage of the opportunity offered by the event to mount an exhibition of some of its many treasures. The exhibition consisted of two equal parts: the first was of works produced by travellers to Greece, Rome and the Levant in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, while the second consisted mainly of texts of Greek and Latin authors. The present exhibition is dedicated to Tony.