Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
The Grand Tour flourished in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was a European tour lasting one to three years for young men of good birth or fortune, nominally aimed to complete their education in classical and renaissance civilization. They were commonly escorted by older custodians, clerics or schoolmasters, charged with directing their educational sightseeing, and restraining them from worldly temptations, particularly in Venice, a placenotorious for its promiscuous pleasures and vices. They were nicknamed ‘Bear leaders’, and the philosopher Locke briefly acted as one (Lough 1953).
The term ‘Grand Tour’ had first been used in 1670, but only achieved wide currency in the eighteenth century, notably after 1749 when a four-volume guide by Thomas Nugent first made the term the title of a book, claiming to provide ‘an exact description of most of the cities, towns and remarkable places of Europe’, including the distances and costs of travel involved. Nugent's work described nine countries but one took precedence over all the rest – Italy, where, among its many ancient towns and cities, Rome was the supreme goal: ‘No place in the universe affords so agreeable a variety of ancient and modern curiosities as this celebrated city. In fact, one cannot walk fifty paces within the town without observing some remains of its ancient grandeur’ (III, 21). Nugent devoted 67 pages to Rome and its environs, inventorying the sights that the Grand Tourist should seek out. They comprised ‘churches, palaces, villas, colleges, hospitals, piazzas, columns, obelisks, paintings, bridges, aqueducts and fountains, pagan temples, theatres and amphitheatres, triumphal arches, baths, […] and circus's (sic)’ (III, 213–14). The word ‘Grand’ did not just describe the tour but the status of the tourists. Though ostensibly meant to round off a classical education, the tour was also a social rite of passage intended to convert the sons of patrician families from schoolboys into urbane men of the world, who would return to manage country estates, or enter careers in politics, the professions or the church. Nugent's guide addressed these broader aims, offering, in addition to sightseeing information, ‘remarks on the present state of trade, as well as the liberal arts and sciences’ as part of its title.