Its vivid pictures of far-off lands captivated audiences when they were first published. And followers were keen to replicate Erhard Reiwich’s scenes of Venice and Jerusalem.
Sound familiar? Not so fast. These pictures were published 500 years before Instagram.
“Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam” (“Pilgrimage to the Holy Land”) is said to be the world’s first travel guide. Written by Bernhard von Breydenbach, and illustrated by Reiwich, it was published in 1486.
The pair swiftly became the world’s first travel influencers. Von Breydenbach’s travelogue – detailing the pair’s journey through Italy and across the Mediterranean – captivated readers. Reiwich’s illustrations were the first accurate images ever seen of destinations including Rhodes, Cairo and Beirut. Fifteenth-century Europeans were fascinated.
Those who had no plans to leave home liked looking at the images, while travelers planning pilgrimages to the Holy Land especially loved the pull-out map of Jerusalem – the first ever printed map of the city. The book was repeatedly reprinted.
Only a handful of first editions survive, and are rarely put on public display, because of the pages’ light sensitivity.
But this week, a copy will go on display at the British Museum in London.
The book – which is part of the British Museum’s collection, but not usually displayed – will form part of a new exhibition, Inspired by the east: How the Islamic world influenced western art, which opens Thursday. The book’s pull-out map of Jerusalem, centered round the Dome of the Rock, will be on show.
Maxwell Blowfield, press officer at the British Museum, told CNN that Von Bredenbach’s travelogue, written in Latin, was “very Bill Bryson or Michael Palin.”
But the pair’s journey was a far cry from that of modern travel writers. Their trip to the Holy Land, leaving from Venice and traveling by sea, bridged two years, setting out in 1483 and returning home in 1484.
Giulia Bartrum, Curator of German Prints at the British Museum, called the book a “15th century bestseller” and attributed its success to the pictures.
“Before this book, most of the depictions of places such as Jerusalem or Venice were totally made up,” she said. “Very few people in Europe had ever visited these places so they had no realistic idea of what they looked like.
“In some ways, you can trace all the familiar trappings that tempt us to travel today – Rough Guides or Lonely Planet guidebooks, TripAdvisor and even Instagram – back to this book.
“They all offer tantalizing glimpses of what wonderful places are out there in the world to see. But ‘Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam’ did it first.”
The exhibition finishes January 26 2020.