A “Grand Tour” in old photos - tour images show travel in the Edwardian era
A Grand Tour
A mistake. It is a tower and not a tour
that does not crumble.
And we will make arrangements now
to take a guided tour of this tower
and soon find out that there are no stairs
and when you get to the top
there is no view.
(From The Metaphysical Paintings by John Perreault)
- Grand Tour - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Grand Tour was the traditional travel of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of mass railroad transit in the 1840s.
Introduction – what was the “Grand Tour”?
"According to the law of custom, and perhaps of reason, foreign travel completes the education of an English gentleman." – Edward Gibbon
“To collect photographs is to collect the world .” – Susan Sontag
“...a photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stencilled off the real ” (Sontag, Susan 1982 The Image World ).
I love old photographs. Perhaps it’s because they give us a glimpse of what people thought was interesting or important at the time they were taken. They pique our curiosity and perhaps evoke a nostalgia for a time we can never again experience. Maybe they also depict a “reality” without the problems and difficulties, the fears and discomforts, of confronting “reality” in the here and now.
So when I discovered a bunch of photographs that had been collected in the very early years of the last (20th) Century they piqued my curiosity greatly. I still have no surety which of my relatives collected these pictures but I think it might have been my great-aunt Mina and her husband, the Rev Gerrit du Plessis. Great-aunt Mina was my paternal grandfather’s sister and she and her husband made a few trips to Europe, at least one of them before the Great War of 1914 to 1918. The subject matter of the photos, at least those that I can identify or which have labels, reminded me of the concept of the “Grand Tour” and I’m sure that the Du Plessis collected them much in the spirit of the original “Grand Tourists” and, being good Calvinists, in the spirit identified by Susan Sontag in her great essay On Photography:
“The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic – Germans, Japanese and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.”
The Du Plessis did not take photographs, as far as I know, but would have collected them at every stop along their “Grand Tour” as a justification for their being there, “a friendly imitation of work.”
These photos are mostly commercial, though there is no indication of the identity of the photographer on any of them.
The “Grand Tour” undertaken by upper class young men from the UK followed a fairly set pattern or itinerary: they went, via Dover and Calais, to Paris for some learning and experience in matters of government and diplomacy; thence to Switzerland, where mountaineering was eagerly practiced; thence to Italy for some tastes of classical art, especially in Florence, Venice and, of course, Rome (with a side-trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum for the more adventurous – many attracted, no doubt, by the titillating thought of the “secret” art to be found there) to see the Forum and the classical architecture.
From southern Europe the return trip was usually made through Germany and Holland. For some a side trip would also be made to Spain. And then back to the UK to uplift those who were not fortunate enough to make the Tour with accounts of the travels and explanations of the many artefacts and artworks brought back home.
The English photos
My unknown forebear took in some sights in the UK, such as Bournemouth and Paignton.
Paignton Pier was opened in 1879 in the Devon resort town of Paignton and became famous for its entertainment, including a performance in 1880 of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. The pier was destroyed by fire in 1919, so the photograph at left must date from before then.
My unknown relative presumably was there before the fire.
The pier was redeveloped in the 1980s to offer more modern entertainments.Another photograph in the collection is of Bournemouth Pier. This Pier was opened in 1880. It was 838 feet long (about 255 metres) when opened but extensions in 1894 and 1909 took the length to more than 1000 feet (about 305 metres).
The photo of Bournemouth Pier was taken from East Cliff. It’s difficult to put a date to the photo but cars and a bus are visible so my guess would be just prior to the First World War (perhaps around 1910 or so?).
The last English photo in the collection is of the Great Doward in Herefordshire, site of the Doward Caves, one of the places in which King Arthur and his knights are said to be waiting until England should need them again. The town of Great Doward is on the River Wye, which can be seen in the photo. I’m not sure where King Arthur’s Cave might be relative to this photo.
The legends of King Arthur are still reverberating in popular culture as they have done since the publication of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain ) in the 12th Century, with echoes in German and French literature of subsequent Centuries. Indeed the French writer Chretien de Troyes started the whole romanticisation of the Arthurian legend by adding, among other things, the quest for the Holy Grail into the story, which brings us right up to Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code , by way of Thomas Mallory’s Morte D’Arthur and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King .
Along this long and winding trail a great many accretions have been added to the story, from beautiful damsels in distress, adulteries, murders, and even “joyous sprites” as recounted in Idylls of the King :
“And still at evenings
on before his horse
The flickering fairy-circle wheeled and broke
Flying, and linked again, and wheeled and broke
Flying, for all the land was full of life.”
The picture of the sprites is by Gustave Doré, the French artist, who illustrated Tennyson’s epic poem in the late 19th Century. Doré was highly successful as an illustrator because his engravings were completely in tune with the romantic outlook of the Victorian era, the era of the Grand Tour par excellance .
As Graham Phillips writes in a recent book about Arthur: “Travelling the length and breadth of the British Isles, we discover a wealth of Arthurian legend; in every part of the land the great king lives on in folklore. Tales tell how he was born here or died there; that he fought a dragon in this valley, or killed a giant on that mountain. There are Arthur's Hills, Arthur's Stones and Arthur's Caves. King Arthur features in more legends attached to ancient sites in England and Wales than any other character.”
Phillips adds, somewhat sardonically: “The world over, King Arthur is a bestseller.”
On to Paris and the Eiffel Tower
But back to our tour – next stop, Paris!
And what could more excitingly symbolise the City of Light than the Eiffel Tower?
The Eiffel Tower has become the quintessential sight that tells you that you are in Paris, for so long the centre of culture and all that was modern in the world.
The modernism of the Eiffel Tower was and is not accidental, after all was built as the entrance to the Exposition Universelle held to mark the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, “the best of times, the worst of times”, which brought politics into the modern era much as the Industrial Revolution forced the processes of production into modern modes.
And the Eiffel Tower was, with its 7 300 tons of “puddled iron” in 18 000 pieces, held together with more than two million rivets, built by some 300 workers, a potent symbol of industrialisation. It was at the time of its building (it was completed in March 1889) the tallest tower in the world, a distinction it held until it was overtaken in 1930 by the Chrysler Building in New York City. The Tower is still, however, the tallest structure in Paris.
In spite of the relatively primitive safety precautions available at the time of the building of the Tower, remarkably only one worker was killed during its construction. This was due to the extraordinary efforts made by designer Gustave Eiffel to ensure safety on the open construction.
As with most modern cultural artefacts, the Tower was not well-received by all. Novelist Guy de Maupassant is said to have so hated it that he lunched every day in the restaurant in the Tower, because it was the one place in Paris from which he could not see the Tower!
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre
The next stop on this Grand Tour is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Basilique du Sacré-Cœur) on the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in Paris and the source of the name of the locale of the birth of much modern art. Here many artists whose names became synonymous with modernism in the arts, lived and worked: De Jonking, Pissarro, Cézanne, Manet, Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Renoir, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Derain, Villon, Duchamp, Dufy, Susanne Valadon, Utrillo, Toulouse Lautrec, and Gen Paul.
New art movements flourished here, many were born here, in the exciting creative buzz that was happening in the suburb below the hill on which sat the Basilica: Impressionism flourished here, as did synthesism and symbolism. Cubism was born here in the tenement known as Le Bateau-Lavoir (the laundry-boat) . In this run-down building Picasso painted the famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon , which started the cubist revolution in painting. Other artists who lived in the building were Pablo Gargallo, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Amedeo Modigliani, Pierre Reverdy (1912-1913), André Salmon, and Endre Rozsda.
And it was not only painters who made the place famous: writers and actors and ballet dancers and composers all made their homes below the Basilica, which sat like icing on top of a cake, glistening white in the sunshine. The area became famous also for the clubs and restaurants that flourished there in the creative ferment of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries: Le Chat Noir, the Moulin de la Galette, and, of course, the Moulin Rouge.
The Basilica glistened white (and still does) because the travertine stone of which it is built constantly exudes calcite which overcomes even the ravages of weathering and pollution. Construction of the church was begun in 1875, but only completed in 1914, by which time the First World War interrupted progress so that the consecration of the church to the Sacred Heart only took place in 1919.
The church has a rather ambiguous place in history as it was built to "expiate the crimes of the communards"according to the decree of the Assemblée nationale of 24 July 1873. The communards were those citizens of Paris who resisted the Prussian advance into the city and formed their own city government in defiance of the central national government which had capitulated to the Prussians. This was a rebellion of the people, who demanded "la république démocratique et sociale!" ("the democratic and social republic!"). The commune existed for a few weeks, from 18 March to 28 May 1871.
The rebellion was brutally suppressed by the provisional government headed by Adolfe Thiers, who was concerned that the Prussians would be provoked by the alternative government which the Paris Commune represented. An estimated 30 000 people died in the final week of the commune, known as La Semaine Sanglante. Tens of thousands of communards were subsequently executed. In one incident central government troops dynamited the entrances to caves where communards had taken refuge, sealing them, alive, in their tombs.
Jean D’Arc and Notre Dame de Reims
In front of the Basilica there are two patriotic statues, one of Jean D’Arc (Joan of Arc) and the other of King Louis IX. This sculpture of the woman Bernard Shaw called “ ... the most notable Warrior Saint in the Christian calendar, and the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages.” The accompanying picture, though, is not of the statue at Sacré-Cœur.
Shaw went on (in the Preface to his play Saint Joan) to describe the ambiguous and different nature of this extraordinary woman: “Though a professed and most pious Catholic, and the projector of a Crusade against the Hussites, she was in fact one of the first Protestant martyrs. She was also one of the first apostles of Nationalism, and the first French practitioner of Napoleonic realism in warfare as distinguished from the sporting ransom-gambling chivalry of her time.”
The Wikipedia article on Jean d’Arc summarises her short life and great accomplishments thusly: “A peasant girl born in Eastern France, Joan led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War, claiming divine guidance, and was indirectly responsible for the coronation of King Charles VII. She was captured by the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court and burned at the stake when she was nineteen years old.”
The case was reviewed by the Vatican some 24 years later and Joan was exonerated. She was beatified in 1909 and canonised in 1920. Shaw’s comment on this: “The question then arises: how did The Church get over the verdict at the first trial when it canonized Joan five hundred years later?”
“Easily enough.” Shaw continues. “In the Catholic Church, far more than in law, there is no wrong without a remedy.”
Joan was instrumental in getting the Dauphin, later to be Charles VII, crowned at the traditional scene of French coronations, the cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims, on 17 July 1429.
After the coronation a series of political blunders led to her eventual capture in May 1430, by the Burgundian faction which was allied to the English. The English Government bought Joan from her Burgundian captors and set about trying her for heresy. The trial itself was full of legal problems and the illiterate young woman showed considerable theological skill in her own defence. She was asked the trick question whether or not she knew she was in God’s grace. If she had answered “Yes” she would have been guilty of heresy, as Church doctrine proclaimed that no-one could know for sure if they were in a state of grace. If she had answered “No” that would have been a confession of guilt. Her subtle answer: “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”
Nonetheless she was found guilty of heresy and condemned to death, the sentence being carried out on 30 May 1431when she was burned at the stake in the Ville-Marche in Rouen. This verdict was overturned in a later trial which, on 7 July 1456 declared her innocent and her chief accuser Bishop Pierre Cauchon guilty of heresy instead. This was rather too late to do her any good!
All this has taken us rather far from Paris, but we haven’t finished there yet!
- Joan of Arc - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Saint Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d'Arc; c1412 – 30 May 1431) also known as "the Maid of Orleans," is a national heroine of France and a Catholic saint.
Napoleon and the Arc de Triomphe
Let’s go back to the Arc de Triomphe, sitting in the middle of the Place de l’Etoile at the Western end of the Champs-Élysées, that grand boulevard which is one of the most famous streets in the world.
The Arc was commissioned by Napoleon after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1806 and was completed in 1836. This battle, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, was decisive in breaking the coalition against Napoleon and was greeted with almost delirious joy by the French people. After the battle Napoleon issued the following proclamation:
Soldats! Je suis content de vous
Soldiers: I am satisfied with you.
In the Battle of Austerlitz you have justified all that I expected from your intrepidity. You have decorated your eagles with immortal glory.
An army of one hundred thousand men, commanded by the Emperors of Russia and Austria, has been, in less than four hours, either cut in pieces or dispersed. Thus in two months the third coalition has been vanquished and dissolved.
Peace cannot now be far distant. But I will make only such a peace as gives us guarantee for our future, and secures rewards to our allies.
When everything necessary to secure the happiness and prosperity of our country is obtained, I will lead you back to France. My people will behold you again with joy. It will be enough for one of you to say, 'I was at the battle of Austerlitz;' for all your fellow citizens to exclaim, 'There is a brave man.'
The Arc was designed by Jean Chalgrin who used what is termed an astylar style. This is a style of architecture without columns or pilasters. It stands 49.5 metres (162 ft) high, 45 metres (148 ft) wide and 22 metres (72 ft) deep, big enough for one Charles Godefroy, a pilot, to fly a Nieuport 11 “Bebe” biplane through it three weeks after the Paris Victory parade in 1919.
The Arc stands at the centre of what was called the Place de l’Etoile (Square of the Star), so called because it was the confluence of a number of streets which radiated in a star shape, as can be seen from the image taken from Google Earth. The square is now officially known as the Place Charles de Gaulle, but very often still referred to by its old name.
Place de la Concorde and the guillotine
At the other end of the Champs-Élysées is the Place de la Concorde , which, in spite of its pacific name, has a very gruesome history as the site of public executions by guillotine during the Revolution.
It was designed in 1755 by Jacques-Ange Gabriel (although in the Wikipedia article on the Place the designer is listed as James Mott), on commission from Louis XV. The square was initially called Place Louis XV and during the Revolution its name was changed in 1792 to Place de la Révolution and the infamous guillotine was set up in place of the statue of Louis XV. Three years later the name was changed again, this time to its present name, and where the statue of Louis XV and the guillotine had stood, the obelisk of Luxor was erected in 1836 after a four year journey from Luxor in Egypt. This 3 300-year-old red granite column had been given to France by the then Viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali.
The photo of the Place de la Concorde is apparently taken from some distance in front of the obelisk, looking south down the Rue Royale toward L'église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, usually known as La Madeleine. On either side of the entrance to the Rue Royale from the Place de la Concorde are identical buildings, also designed by Gabriel. The one on the left in the photo houses the Hotel Crillon and the one on the right the French Department of the Navy.
La Madeleine was conceived by Napoleon as a Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armée ("Temple to the Glory of the Great Army"), a tribute to the army which won the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. However, its claim to fame as a tribute to that army was rather overshadowed by the erection of the Arc de Triomphe. After many vicissitudes the building was finally consecrated as a church in 1842.
Sous Les Ponts de Paris and the Palais Garnier
Sous Les Ponts de Paris – that romantic song I first heard sung by the sultry Eartha Kitt many moons ago – is brought to mind by this photo. The bridges in question as far as I can tell are Pont Notre Dame, then the Pont au Change and the Pont Neuf. If my identifications are correct then this photo was taken after 1914, as the Pont Notre Dame was re-built from 1910 to 1914 as a single metal arch as seen in the photo. Prior to that it had been a three-arched stone bridge.
One of the most beautiful buildings in a city of many beautiful buildings is the Opéra Garnier, also known as the Opéra de Paris or the Palais Ganier, after its designer Cahrles Garnier. Situated in the IXth Arrondissement on the Place de l’ Opéra, the house was opened in 1875 as the Académie Nationale de Musique - Théâtre de l'Opéra, a title it held until 1978, when it was renamed Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris . The Opéra was the inspiration for the 1910 novel Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, upon which Andrew Lloyd Webber based his now very famous musical of the same name.
A dominant feature of the interior of the building is the Grande Escalier or Grand Staircase. The interior of the building is very opulent with much gilding and artwork.
The Palais Garnier seats about 2 200 in the audience under a chandelier which weighs more than six tons. This chandelier fell during a performance of Helle in May 1896, killing a member of the audience, a Mme Chomette, a 56-year-old concierge who had been sitting in seat number 13. The collapse of the chandelier started a fire.
Underneath the Palais Garnier is a fairly extensive “lake” of water in which blind fish live. It is a building redolent with stories and legends which the casual observer would not guess from the exterior, making it a fitting subject for a Gothic tale.
From the Palais Garnier down the Rue de la Paix is another beautiful and historic Paris Place – the Place Vendôme.
The square, in the 1st arrondissement, was formerly the home of the illegitimate son of King Henri IV and his mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées, the duc de Vendôme. It was first laid out as a monument to the glories of Louis XIV’s armies and was intitally called the Place des Conquêtes, but this was changed to Place Louis le Grand on account of the victories of Louis’ armies proved rather ephemeral. A statue of Louis on horseback was put in the square where the column later erected by Napoleon now stands. The development of the square proceeded from 1702 to about 1720, the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart being in charge of the design. Interestingly when the square was first begun as a square it was still some distance outside of Paris proper.
Napoleon was obviously greatly pleased about the outcome of the Battle of Austerlitz as he erected La Colonne Vendôme to celebrate the victory, the third monument to it in Paris after the Arc de Triomphe and La Madeleine! The column itself is modelled after the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome. It is clad with spiralling bas-relief plates made of bronze, allegedly melted down from the enemy cannons captured in the battle.
The communards tore down the column but it was re-erected in 1875 when France again became a republic.
Switzerland and Neuchâtel
Now it is time to leave the wonderful “City of Light” to continue our Grand Tour and make our way to Switzerland.
The first place we get to in Switzerland is Neuchâtel in Western Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel. Neuchâtel dates from 1011 when Burgundian King Rudolf III presented a new castle (hence the name Neuchâtel which means, of course, “new castle”) there to his wife Irmengarde. The county of Neuchâtel went through many vicissitudes over the next centuries, even at one time being the princedom of one of Napoleon’s marshalls, Berthier, who never set foot in the place, although he did authorise the restoration of infrastructure in his fiefdom.
The Lake which takes its name from the city is the largest lake entirely in Switzerland. It is 38.3 kilometres long and 8.2 at its widest. The water reaches a depth of 152 metres.
The photograph of the Baie de l’Evole shows that the lake can become quite rough when the wind is right!
Berne and the Zytglogge
From Neuchâtel we go to Berne, capital city of the Swiss Federation, and site of many interesting tourist sights, not least of which is the Zytglogge, which in Swiss German means “time bell.” The bell which hangs in the tower was cast in October 1405 and has, since then, rung on the hour every hour! No mean feat to have an employment record of 600 years. It weighs nearly a ton and a half. The building in which it is housed was origianlly built in about 1218 as part of the city’s defenses. When those defenses were extended in about 1346 the building was used as a women’s prison, most likely hosing women accused of having sexual relations with priests, known as Pfaffendirnen or “priests’ whores.”
The town of Berne was burned to the ground in 1405 and a huge reconstruction effort was undertaken, rebuidling the city in stone instead of the former wood. It was at this time that the tower took the shape it has now, with a few alterations over the years.
The clock’s movement was improved in 1530 and has remained much the same since then. Interestingly the tower also has an astronomical clock showing phases of the moon and the astrological sign of the time.
The Rigi and Lucerne
From Berne we travel to Lucerne with its Chapel Bridge and fabulous views of Mount Pilatus and Mount Rigi. The latter is also called the “Queen of the Mountains” and was made additionally famous by the fact that great English artist J.M.W. Turner painted it several times. Turner’s famous watercolour called “The Blue Rigi, Lake of Lucerne, Sunrise” sold in 2006 for US$11 million!
In this photo of Lucerne Rigi can be seen across the lake and the Chapel Bridge just left of centre in the foreground.
This bridge, the oldest wooden bridge in Europe, was built across the River Reuss in 1333. The bridge was part of the city’s fortifications and is covered. Inside the bridge is a series of paintings dating from the 17th Century. These paintings, most of which were destroyed in a 1993 fire, depicted scenes from the history of the city. The bridge is some 200 metres long
The tower adjoining the bridge is the so-called Wasserturm (Water Tower). This is an octagonal tower about 43 metres tall and was used in the past as, among other things, a prison and torture chamber.
And so we come to the end of our Grand Tour in photographs, having learned I hope something about Western Europe and its rich and varied history.
Maybe we have had a “trace” of all the places we have visited through the photographs “stencilled” into our beings, and are the richer for it.
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