|August 2758 auc
Fr. Apulo Caesare C. Popillio Laena consulibus
Australian author Tony Perrottet on retracing what may be the world's oldest grand toura multiyear Mediterranean itinerary originated by the ancients.
Nearly two millennia ago, Roman scholars, families, emperors, and a few well-heeled women kick-started what is now considered the world's largest industry travel. Tourism was born in part because Augustus had rid the Mediterranean of pirates, highways were safe for travel, and inns and guides could be found throughout the ancient world's wonders all of which made the exploration of Italy, Greece, Asia Minor (now Turkey), and Egypt possible for the first time ever.
Surprisingly, as Australian author Tony Perrottet discovered, the Mediterranean's sights, and sightseers, have changed little since A.D. 100. Following everything from ancient guidebooks to letters excavated from Egyptian sands, Perrottet was able to view this premier vacationland through the eyes of its original tourists, and to discover the Mediterranean anew [Read "Playground of the Gods" in the March 2003 issue of Adventure].
The account of his four-month tour, Route 66 A.D., comes out in paperback next month as Pagan Holiday. Here, Perrottet explains what it's like to take what may be the world's oldest package tour.
NGA: Can you describe what an average ancient Roman
holiday was like?
Then they would go over to Greece, which was like the
Old World for the Romans. They loved to go to Athens and to see where
Socrates lived, where Plato debated, to the Parthenon and the Acropolis.
The Romans weren't very interested in the Greek islands,
which were inhabited by shepherds and fishermen. [Most travelers would
head directly for] modern Turkey (Asia Minor in antiquity), one of the
But the whole aim of going to Turkey was to visit to the ruins of Troy. Homer was like Shakespeare, [and the Iliad and Odyssey] were regarded like the Bible. Going to Troy was like a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Priests would show off the armor of Achilles or the sword of Hectorcompletely spurious [artifacts], but there were also war graves of great heroes to see.
Then they would get a boat down to Egypt. Alexandria was an extremely exotic place for Romans, it was a crossroads of Africa and Asia and Europe. They would go to the Pyramids and take a Nile River cruise, stopping at tombs along the way.
[The tours took] two to five years. Two, just for the sheer logistics of it, was about the average.
NGA: Why would ancient Romans take this tour?
You weren't really a complete person until you'd seen these amazing things, very much like the English nobles of 18th century who felt that they had to see Paris and Rome and Florence.
The Romans thought that they should go and meet the philosophers of Athens, see the Acropolis, the Pyramids. Which is still one of the reasons people travel today.
NGA: Does anyone still take two-year trips?
I think in America, it's much more puritanical, and employers will look askance if on your resume they see you've wandered around for two ears whereas in Australia, they'll actually be concerned if you haven't seen the world.
When you come back you're more of an informed citizen, and you don't have that sort of endless longing of having missed out on something, which I get a lot from Americans, like, "Oh man, straight from college to schlepping along." And then before you realize it, it becomes harder and harder to go off on one of these trips.
NGA: Your inspiration for your trip was the "world's
Pausanias traveled very widely he was actually born in Asia Minor but he spent ten years wandering around Greece, describing every great sight. Some of it is incredibly turgid, because he gets into every sort of obscure mythological argument, [like] why a statue in Olympia is clasping a piece of fruit, and it will go on for pages and pages.
He was very precise no guidebook writer today would spend ten years writing a guidebook. It's actually a paragon of the art, and archaeologists have actually gone back and used this book to excavate Delphi and Olympia.
When I saw this, it made me realize that you could actually
use this today, because all the places he went were the places I wanted
to go to. I wanted to go Olympia and climb the Acropolis and look at the
But one of my dreads was to just find piles of rubble
overrun with tourists so it occurred to me that you could look
at the ancient world through Pausanius [and other writers] and see it
NGA: What was it like to walk in the footsteps of
these ancient tourists?
But the ancient Roman tourists had a very different sense of travel in the sense that they didn't expect to be the only person going to these places. There was even a philosopher who argued that [even though] the Olympic games were uncomfortable and crowded and everyone collapsed from heat exhaustion, he always put up with it because it was an amazing spectacle.
Tourism, in a sense, is a metaphor for life. It can be difficult, but you're not going to give up, because there are great wonders and experiences that make it worth it.
So you can take this philosophical attitude, that there's always going to be chaos at these great places, and in fact there always was in Roman times.
NGA: So what were these tourist attractions like in
It wasn't the austere, dreamy world that we imagine. It
was actually crowded and gaudy and exasperating. So once you start accepting
that, then you realize you're in this great tradition where travel
To realize that they were bitching about the food and accommodations and getting lostyou realize our modern experiences really echo the ancient tourists'.
NGA: A lot of modern travel is a quest for new experiences.
When did that begin?
All through pagan times and the Middle Ages, you went to Jerusalem or Rome to see exactly the same things everyone else sawthat was the point.
One of the curious things today is that we have both of
these traditions. We still want to see the Colosseum, but we expect to
be the only ones to do that. [The idea of] being the only person in the
NGA: Before this book, what was your travel ideal?
I think the bottom line is also that no two xperiences are the same. Even if you're wandering into the Colosseum with 50,000 other people, you can still have a unique experience. It doesn't mean it's not worth doing.
NGA: Are more people planning their trips around ancient
You get to imagine what it was like when the world was an incredibly new and original thing, and [as an author] you do get to write about something original.
Portrait courtesy Lesley Thelander
© NovaRoma 2005
Marcus Minucius-Tiberius Audens
Marcus Philippus Conservatus and Franciscus Apulus Caesar
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