This monographic issue, composed of 10 essays, investigates the relationship between travel and the Holy Land from the 19th century to the beginning of the 21th century. By focusing on travel as its main research topic, this issue intends to analyze the way in which the Holy Land was perceived, represented and narrated during these centuries.
As Luca Clerici states in the Introduction to his Scrittori italiani di viaggio [Italian Travel Writers], it is important to “distinguish between odeporic writings, i.e. reports written by authors that describe travel they in fact undertook , and those works in which travel is the author’s invention.” As two comparable examples of this, Clerici presents Marco Polo’s Il Milione on the one hand, and Dante’ La Divina Commedia, on the other. Even though these “two ‘families’ [are] (…) identifiable” and their contents are clearly different, the mutual relationship and the reciprocal influence one ‘family’ has on the other sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish them.1 What impact does an ‘imagined land’ have on the perception and representation of the ‘real land’ that travelers actually visit?
This question is particularly important in regard to the Holy Land, certainly the most ‘imagined,’ and probably the most visited land. For this reason, this monographic issue includes articles that deal with perceptions, representations and narrations provided both by travelers to the Holy Land and by subjects (individuals, as well as groups, organizations and institutions) who envisioned it without ever having traveled there. By presenting essays that discuss these two different ‘families,’ this issue intends to identify reciprocal and intertwined influences between narratives of the imagined Holy Land and travelers’ accounts, thus exploring to what extent the construction of the Holy Land has been carried out according to a combination of travelers’ reports and imagined narratives.
For the purpose of analyzing perceptions, representations and narratives of the Holy Land, the category of travel is particularly useful, since travel was – and in some ways still is – a preferential mode of circulation, transmission and dissemination of ideas, perceptions and narratives. The essays in this volume examine how individuals and groups of travelers introduced perceptions, representations and narratives of the Holy Land both to their own and to other contexts, thus producing a complex set of exchange and reverberations regarding the Holy Land.
Since ancient times travel has been a common phenomenon, and travel literature has existed: Herodotus and Homerus are obvious examples of authors who belong to the two ‘families’ we referred to previously. With the modern age, thanks to advancements in transportation, travel became increasingly frequent and the number of travelers grew substantially, as the well-known phenomenon of the Grand Tour in the 18th century easily demonstrates.2
At the beginning of the 19th century, a revolution in travel took place. The Grand Tour as a sort of aristocratic institution was brought to an end, and traveling became a more common endeavor: new transportation-- in particular the steamboat-- the publishing of Baedeker guides, and the birth of the tourist agency Thomas Cook & Son, which organized group trips, were unequivocal signs of that transformation. Finally, during the 20th century, mass tourism arose. Up until the 18th century, travelers were either young aristocrats, who traveled for educational purposes, or people who moved for professional reasons: diplomats and statesmen; scientists and literary men; painters, architects, and people in the field of music (musicians, music librettists, singers); even swashbucklers (honorable and not: spies, gamblers, swindlers, alleged scientists). With the 19th century, travelers’ typology changed as their numbers swelled.
To begin with, more people started traveling for professional reasons: the first category that expanded was that of explorers, particularly between the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. More scientists traveled, because of the boom in natural sciences; the number of archeologists also increased and more religious people traveled due to the boost of missions all over the world. Finally, with the growing role of the press, new occupations were created: reporters and special correspondents. At the same time, a new form of travel began, promoted by the expansionist and colonial enterprises of states: a growing wave of military personnel and people involved in economic activities (in either agriculture, trade or banking) relocated from the colonial power to its colonized countries, in some cases accompanied by their families.
Next, there was also a rise in the number of those who did not travel for work, but for pleasure, especially in the 20th century, when tourism became an increasingly popular (if not the most common) reason to travel. In general, the expansion of typologies and number of travelers was part of the trend that the above-mentioned Luca Clerici refers to as the “democratization of travel.”3
This transformation affected the phenomenon of travel to the Holy Land as well, which experienced a surge in the 19th century, following a few centuries of a reduced number of travelers. Despite the war against the Ottoman Empire, between the 15th and the 18th centuries there remained a continuous flow of people moving across the Mediterranean to/from the Ottoman-controlled Holy Land: pilgrims and slaves, soldiers and merchants, diplomats and convicts, missionaries and intellectuals all came and went, and in turn engendered a wide circulation of stories concerning the region. Thus, in the Early Modern period members of lower social classes travelled to and from the Holy Land and can easily be added to the typology of ‘illustrious’ travelers. Although the complexity and uncertainty of available sources does not allow for validating definitive numbers, following Fernand Braudel, various scholars have investigated the porosity of Mediterranean borders and have confirmed the constant movement of people along the Mediterranean routes during those centuries.4 The opportunity to travel to the Holy Land was offered to a wide range of travelers: they could be slaves captured along the coasts and/or imprisoned in battle, rowers, merchants belonging to various social classes, as well as missionaries. Among them, many were able to spread their own narrative concerning the Holy Land.
Although travel to the Holy Land never stopped (its religious sites were amongst the most important stations in the framework of what was termed the Oriental Grand Tour),5 in the 19th century visiting the Holy Land became more popular. As some of the articles of this monographic issue well explain, the reasons for this heightened interest were numerous: the invention of the steamship, which was especially relevant for American travelers; the religious revival of the Holy Land (the reconstitution of the Latin Patriarchate,6 the Russian Orthodoxy presence);7 the increased political interest of the European Powers; improved security due to Mohammed Ali’s presence, and the Ottoman Empire’s reforms.8 The “democratization of travel” we referred to previously also occurred vis-à-vis travels to the Holy Land: more people traveled for various reasons, including for work, tourism, or, indeed, pilgrimage.9 It is worth noting that in many cases – and the situation has remained the same until today – it was not possible to distinguish between those who traveled for work, tourists and pilgrims, and the distinction was (and still is) quite blurred.10
As a consequence of this major change in travel, a parallel transformation took place in travel literature: both its production and consumption increased. On one hand, the habit of writing travelogues and travel reports progressively grew; increasingly, less educated people began writing and texts of lesser (or no) literary value were published. On the other hand, more people started reading travel literature, both those who used it as a means to culturally prepare for an upcoming trip, and those who had returned and wanted to relate their experience to the one of a more famous traveler.
Of course, this transformation also characterized the production of travel literature concerning the Holy Land. Starting with mid-19th century, a huge number of books were published,11 and travelogues and travel reports became extremely popular. In fact, this process never stopped and different typologies of travel accounts and reports have continued to appear over the last decades: for example, the popularity of websites and blogs12 on traveling to the Holy Land13 is enormous, as are graphic novels dealing with the same theme.14
The attention that previous historiography has devoted to the topic of travel has recently increased, especially in the last thirty years: many individual and collective works have been published15 and conferences and workshops organized.16 This monographic issue inserts itself in this path and the 10 essays that compose it draw on the many historiographical works that exist on this topic. At the same time, the larger historiographical framework that informs this issue is closely engaged with recent research concerning Mediterranean society, which stresses the uninterrupted mobility of people, goods, commodities and ideas since the Early Modern era.17 Travel, travelers and travelogues, both real and imagined, should be considered ‘contact zones’ that allowed and fostered dialogue beyond religious and political conflicts.
Yet, despite the substantial amount of historiography on travel, and notwithstanding the huge extent of research conducted on the Holy Land - as a physical region, a political concept, a psychological dimension, and a sacred space - the specific issue of travel to the Holy Land has received less attention by scholars than it deserves. And although the question has often been regarded as part of the enormous debate on Orient and Orientalism,18 not many studies specifically addressing travel to the Holy Land have been published.19
This volume intends to contribute to filling this gap, by specifically investigating the way in which actual travel - as well as non-travel to an imagined land - perceived, represented and narrated the Holy Land throughout three centuries. In particular, this issue intends to simultaneously present the way in which different travelers, coming from different geographic, religious, cultural, socio-economic and political backgrounds perceived the Holy Land, depicting, narrating and constructing it, irrespective of their reasons for traveling, whether based on religion (i.e. Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrims) profession, or tourism. Our intention was – and we hope we have succeeded - to collect as many diverse viewpoints as possible, thus shedding light on the similarities and differences, continuities and fragmentations concerning the Holy Land that may have occurred during the last three centuries.
In December 2012, a call for papers was launched and distributed through informal and formal channels,20 in order to reach the widest academic audience in terms of scholars (junior and/or senior), their backgrounds (historians, literary scholars, anthropologists, art historians, sociologists, political scientists), and their access to different sources (both in terms of language and typology). The response to the call was enthusiastic, and we received an extensive amount of diverse proposals. We selected a total of 10, which were chosen with the purpose of including articles that would deal with the widest variety of topics.
Of course, given the breadth of the subject ‘Travels to the Holy Land,’ we are aware that there are several themes that this monographic issue does not touch on - and this was unavoidable – such as travel carried out by merchants; archaeological expeditions and, in particular, biblical archaeology21 and 20th-century pilgrimages.22 Nor are political figures’ trips to Israel, such as the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s famous visit23 or the more recent visit by the US President Barack Obama24 included. Nevertheless, we believe that the 10 contributions to this issue cut across a vast spectrum of varied relevant and in-depth topics.
Before entering specifically into the contents of this issue, three preliminary remarks are necessary.
The first one concerns the meaning of the expression ‘Holy Land:’ in this issue, it is not considered a religious designation alone, but is used as a neutral term to define the geographical region that was part of the Ottoman Empire, then became a Mandate under the British and is now divided between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Although problematic – it is obviously connected to a Christian perception and representation of this region - we believe that this term is worth employing for several reasons. First of all, it is a term to define that geographical region that is more impartial than others that are closely connected to specific narratives, such as Eretz Israel or Palestine, which in the last century have been coupled with a pro-Israeli or a pro-Palestinian narrative. Secondly, it encompasses the attitude of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to this region, which contains holy sites that have been regarded as pilgrimage destinations by visitors of those faiths for centuries. In fact - as Paolo Maggiolini states in his essay - the Holy Land is not a unique and individual “holy land,” but must be considered as a “multitude of holy lands.” Third, this expression has already been employed by historiography dealing with the issue of travel towards this region.25
As to the sources, within the large range of material used by the authors in this issue, ego-documents (letters or travelogues) are certainly the most central ones.26 This is not by chance: in fact, the individual experience connected to the Holy Land is one of the main focuses of our monographic issue. Two aspects have to be underlined. One is that published works on the Holy Land (either reports of real/imagined travels, religious accounts - including the Bible - or any narrative concerning the region) mediate the individual relationship to the holy sites. Another is that it is precisely the individual’s subjectivity that emerges from their encounter with the Holy Land. The collective imagination that exists within the religious/cultural/political/social group one belongs to can be confirmed, denied or transformed by the traveler’s personal experience. Traveling to the Holy Land, however experienced, on one side relies on preconceived beliefs, and on the other contests them, as the individual narrates the visited places from his/her personal point of view. The Holy Land is never a neutral topic: it is a delicate matter, and for this reason, it challenges the personal sensitivity (and therefore, the individuality) of those people who travel to and write on it, whoever they are: pilgrims, missionaries, merchants, scholars, archeologists, tourists or political activists.
Finally, as to the chronological framework: though aware of the existence of previous narratives regarding the Holy Land,27 for example, the famous itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela in the 12th century,28 or the travels that were embarked upon, as mentioned, despite the war between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire, we have chosen to begin our analysis with the 19th century, and its boost in travels to the Holy Land.
The one exception is the first essay, written by Yaron Ben-Naeh, which focuses on Evliya Çelebi’s travels to Ottoman Palestine in the second half of the 17th century. We decided to include it for two main reasons. First of all, Çelebi was one of the few Muslims who wrote a travelogue, compared to the many Christian and Jewish travelers who wrote travelogues of their experience traveling to the Holy Land. Thus, Çelebi provides the readers with an alternate map of holy places to those presented by Christians and Jews, thus confirming the existence of a ‘multitude of holy lands’ dependent on the traveler’s faith. Secondly, by stressing a longer chronological perspective, it is possible to identify continuity and discontinuity in the narratives that developed over the centuries. For instance, on one hand, Çelebi describes a country that “is blessed with water,” thus presenting a different account than those of 19th century European and American travelers; on the other, he refers to the Bedouin “poor mud shacks,” in line with what European and American travelers would write two centuries later.29
Five articles focus on the 19th century: two of them deal with Christian pilgrims (Paolo Maggiolini and Simona Merlo); one concentrates on a woman traveler, Austrian-born Ida Pfeiffer (Jennifer Michaels); and two of them engage with European and American travelers (Guy Galazka and Milette Shamir). All these essays share one representation of the Holy land, which is simultaneously perceived as the exotic ‘Orient,’ and familiar, because of its biblical past.
More specifically, Paolo Maggiolini concentrates on the travels of Catholic and Protestant pilgrims, within the framework of the 19th-century revival of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As he states, while the Protestants perceived the Holy Land as a sort of “Fifth Gospel,” due to their association of the “Land” with the “Book,” Catholics mainly concentrated on the holy sites, focusing on the historical connections between them, the Bible, and the Catholic Church’s presence in the Holy Land. Simona Merlo deals with Russian travelers (whether State agents, Church clergy or simply pilgrims) and underlines their traveling to the Holy Land as part of a larger phenomenon, which included the widespread perception of Moscow as the ‘new Jerusalem’ and the strict religious, cultural and political relations that existed between the Holy Land and Holy Russia; all of which can be defined as the ‘Golden Age’ in the history of the Russian Orthodox presence in Jerusalem.
Jennifer Michaels focuses on the travelogue of middle-aged Austrian Ida Pfeiffer, who visited the Holy Land in 1842. By following the experience of two other famous women who had traveled to the Levant (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Mary Eliza Rogers, who had accompanied respectively their husband and brother), Pfeiffer demonstrates her desire to not be confined to the domestic sphere. Yet, she must present herself as a religious woman eager to visit the Holy Land in order to be allowed by her family to travel alone. Her trip is a combination of the pilgrimage she is theoretically making and the journey she is actually on, during which she wants to describe what she witnesses in an ‘authentic’ way. The Holy Land Pfeiffer describes in her travelogue is a fusion of the Holy Land she has imagined through the Bible and previous accounts she read, and the land that she is actually visiting and experiencing directly.
Finally, the essays of Milette Shamir and Guy Galazka intertwine to good effect, as both of them intend to challenge Edward Said’s idea of an Orientalist approach characterizing the entire Western perception of the East.30 Guy Galazka concentrates specifically on the way Western travelers depicted the Palestinian urban landscape and analyzes several travelogues and paintings by European and American travelers. Despite not totally rejecting Said’s thesis, i.e. that Western representations of the East were based on the “impulse not simply to describe, but also to dominate”, Galazka wants to demonstrate that “no single and homogenous narrative” exists concerning the Holy Land, but a wide variety of “contradictory, shifting, evolving and sometimes overlapping discourses.” At the same time, he stresses the interlaced relationship between “imagination and reality” as a sort of “recognition” of the Holy Land, as it had been imagined through the Bible, rather than a “discovery” of its reality. Milette Shamir analyzes the books of two famous American writers, Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad and William C. Prime’s Tent Life in the Holy Land, both of which were published after their authors returned from the Holy Land. By examining these two books, Shamir strives to transcend several binaries often used when dealing with Western narratives of the Holy Land: “religious/secular,” “fantasy/authenticity,” “revelation/disappointment,” “sentimentalism/realism,” and “pilgrim/tourist,” thus opening the door to an encounter of a “third kind.”
Two essays discuss Jewish travelers to Palestine in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ilia Rodov focuses on the way the Holy Land was perceived and depicted in the paintings of Romanian Moldavia’s synagogues from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century: synagogue artists painted a distant, unseen and imagined land by referring to close, familiar and concretely experienced landscapes. Rodov casts light on an interesting shift: towards the end of the 19th century, when Zionism began conquering the hearts and minds of a minority of Romanian Jews (some of them took an active part in establishing new settlements in the Galilee), images of secular buildings and of the Jewish colonization enterprise were included in the BotoÅŸani synagogue wall and ceiling paintings, thus confirming the reception of Zionist propaganda in Romania synagogues.
Arturo Marzano focuses on Jewish travelers to British Palestine and analyzes their travelogues, which were published in the 1920s and 1930s. On one hand, these travelogues conveyed images of the Holy Land that were commonly used by Western travelers in the 19th and 20th centuries. On the other, they matched the way in which Zionism presented Palestine by employing its images and rhetoric; in this way, these travelogues reinforced the Zionist agenda since their authors added their personal and direct experience of Eretz Israel, thus making the Zionist narrative more effective.
Finally, two essays concentrate on the 21st century, and therefore use different sources than previous essays. By focusing on Jerusalem, considered a metonym of the Holy Land, Dana Hercbergs and Chaim Noy intend to highlight a turning point in Jerusalem’s history of iconic representation, For decades Jerusalem was presented via the Muslim structure of the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent Jewish holy site of the Western Wall, but in recent decades it has been presented as an exclusively Jewish Israeli city, with the Tower of David serving as its new icon. Hercsberg and Noy perform a semiotic analysis of two types of sources: one are the recent architectural sites and structures that make reference to the Tower of David or to the biblical King David; and the other are municipal street posters, high-profile real-estate advertisements, and other spatial and visual markers.
In contrast, Nina Fischer analyzes graphic novels as contemporary travelogues, since they present Israel and Palestine as perceived by visitors traveling from abroad. In particular, Fischer investigates Joe Sacco’s Palestine (1993–6) and Footnotes in Gaza (2009); Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (2010); and Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City (2012). Despite the authors’ diverse backgrounds and different reasons for being in Israel/Palestine, what emerges from these travelogues is the complexity of the Holy Land and the difficulty of experiencing it without being swayed by what has been previously imagined. And while it is no longer the Bible that influences the traveler – but rather, in these cases at least, the production surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - this article once again confirms the interlinked relationship between the ‘real’ and the ‘imagined’ Holy Land.
We would like to thank the entire Board of Quest for the support they have given us from the moment we proposed the idea of editing this issue, and in particular to Laura Brazzo, for her patience and competence in revising all the essays with us. We want to acknowledge our gratitude to all the anonymous referees who have enriched each paper with their insightful and appropriate remarks and suggestions. Finally, we are grateful to Marina Caffiero, Ester Capuzzo and Alberto Cavaglion for revising previous versions of the Introduction.
Serena Di Nepi is the scientific coordinator of the Sapienza Research Unit in the Italian National Project FIRB 2008 coordinated by Giuseppe Marcocci: Beyond "Holy War." Managing Conflicts and Crossing Cultural Borders between Christendom and Islam from the Mediterranean to the extra-European World: Mediation, Transfer, Conversion (XVth-XIXth Century). She received her PhD in Early Modern History at Sapienza-University of Rome in 2007. She is a member of the Scientific Committee of the National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah of Ferrara since May 2012. She collaborated with the École française de Rome, taking part in the project “Piazza Navona” directed by J.F. Bernard (2010). Her research interests are focused on social history and history of mentalities, with specific analysis of religious minorities in Rome in the late medieval and early modern age.
Arturo Marzano is Marie Curie Fellow at the European University Institute. He got his PhD at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, and has been Research Fellow at the University of Pisa, Post-doc at the International Institute for Holocaust Research - Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, and Senior Research Fellow at the Université Panthéon-Assas (Paris 2). His research mainly deals with history of Judaism, Zionism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
How to quote this article:
Serena Di Nepi, Arturo Marzano, Travels to the "Holy Land": Perceptions, Representations and Narratives, in "Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of Fondazione CDEC", n.6 December 2013
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