Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
Both as physical entity and as symbol – of the human mind, or of possible human destinies – the city has always occupied a prime position in travel. Scott and Simpson-Housley (1994) categorize images of the city as Eden, Babylon or the New Jerusalem. A more challenging task is to identify a working definition of the ‘city’ as a physical reality within travel studies: as shown by the recent collective volume on the image of the Muslim city in travelogues, this might require a rethinking of what could be considered a ‘city’. It suggests that the Weberian definition of concentration of administrative functions cannot be applied in all cultural spheres (Gharipour-Ozlu 2015).
Cities attract visitors almost inevitably, since worldly or religious sights either appear in the city or see a city taking shape around them. Pilgrimages thus often became visits to cities, and in many cases the visit to the shrines will be coupled with that to other types of monuments. But the sheer concentration of human population, and the variety of human pursuits – intellectual, commercial, artistic – within the city cannot fail to attract visitors with an interest in these. Stagl (1995) shows that many early works of the art of travel (ars apodemica) are questionnaires for the observation of the city, and may contain an ‘ideal’ city description, created as an example to be followed.
Until the rise of curiosity towards the landscape, cities could be the only points of interest in a travel: the logic of the itineraria, offering sequences of inhabited places, provides the mindset of most travel until the eighteenth century. Capital cities were of particular importance. Swiss traveller Muralt (1726) could claim that, having visited London, he had gained a representative image of England, since people from all parts of the British Isles could be found there. Many other capitals could be seen in the same light, as a summary of their country and its nation. Porter (1991, 143) reminds us that major cities, and in particular capitals, could also act as images of ‘patriarchal potency’ for some authors. Rousseau is one of the first to criticize this view in his theory of travel as developed in Emile (1762): to him, capitals are all similar, places of cosmopolitan exchange, homogenized by globalization; but the real spirit of the nation can only be found in the countryside.