Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy. By Henri-Pierre-Francois Labrouste. 1828. From Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Beaux-Arts.

At a certain age, new expectations are set upon us by societal traditions to guide us from adolescents to adulthood. Different cultures have unique rituals such as the Amish Rumspringa, the Hispanic Quinceñera, the Jewish Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and the Japanese Seijin-no-Hi. Guided by an elder in society, the initiate is led through a ritual process that ends with his or her acceptance into the mature group.

Similarly, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the young English Aristocrats spurred on by the Age of Enlightenment underwent a journey throughout Europe known as the Grand Tour.

Grand Tour – historic map showing a possible route from England through France across the Alps and down into Italy (marked in red).

The journey’s ultimate destination was Italy, whose rich culture and history served as a capstone to the young aristocrat’s education. The wealthiest patrons would visit any combination of countries in between — Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Turkey, and Greece. According to the itinerary, the Tour could last upwards of six years and the average trip required a minimum of six months of traveling time between destinations.

View of the Palais d’Orléans (called Luxembourg) in Paris, ca. 1643, with the garden parterre designed by Jacques Boyceau visible behind the palace.

View of the south facade and the garden basin, Luxembourg Palace.

Garden facade of the Château of Versailles as built by Louis XIII, etched by Israel Silvestre. 1660-1664.

The Palace of Versailles circa 1668, as painted by Pierre Patel (Versailles Museum). The Grand Trianon, begun in 1670, is not depicted.

Beginning in Dover, England the caravan often made landfall in Calais, France, and headed toward Paris. The group, consisting of the young man or woman, the knowledgeable chaperone or “bear-leader,” and the accompanying band of servants; including cooks, hired artists, translators; sought to educate the young aristocrat. France was often the starting country of choice due to its close proximity to England and the fact that French was the language of diplomacy and nobility at the time.

Johann Baptist Lampi II, Portrait of Antonio Canova, after 1806.

Jacques Louis David The Oath of the Horatii, 1784.

The traveling company would stop at their destinations in between, often spending a couple of weeks in smaller towns and several months in major cities. They were in search of the origin of Western Civilization and as many of the cultural evolutions they could afford that took place along the way. As memoirs of their travels, the aristocrat often brought back statues, trinkets, historical artifacts, and commissioned paintings to adorn their home.

Piazza San Marco Looking East from the North-West Corner. 1758. Oil on canvas by Giovanni Antonio Canaletto.

The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice. 1730. Oil on canvas by Giovanni Antonio Canaletto.

Upon their return to England, the noble son or daughter was considered capable of assuming major diplomatic positions or general governing responsibilities. Several factors ended the aristocratic exclusivity Grand Tour. In 1789, the French Revolution greatly upset the country’s hospitality. With the invention of the steamboat and railroad, the Tour was now more than readily available to working class individuals, and thus, displaced the enthusiasm of the aristocracy.

In the second part we’ll discuss the sojourn of architects on the Grand Tour and its importance to pushing the continuum of architecture; in a way that is modern, rooted in history and culture.