The Grand Tour was the custom of a traditional trip of Europe undertaken by upper class young when they came of age. (21) European gentlemen of sufficient means and rank would take a close family member with them to act as a chaperone. To ensure they suffered no hardship, they would often take their own Valet, Coachman and even a cook with them.
This custom first started around 1660 and continued until approximately the 1840s. Considered a rite of passage for all wealthy young men, the Grand Tour was initially undertaken to enhance their education and improve their language skills.
With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and no real desire to work, many a young gentleman stayed away from home, touring France, Italy and occasionally Greece for months or even years. Though the main cities to visit were in Italy, being Venice, Rome, Naples and Pompeii.
They would often commission paintings, buy marbles, coins and medals on their travels and have them shipped back home.
The primary value of the Grand Tour lay in its exposure to the cultural legacy, along with the opportunity to forge important connections, (which we know was most desirable in the Regency era) with the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of Europe. In addition, it often provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music. To ensure they did not miss anything of worth, they commonly hired a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor.
A popular book, An Account of Some of the Statues, Bas-Reliefs, Drawings, and Pictures in Italy published in 1722 by Jonathan Richardson and his son did much to popularize these trips.
The legacy of the Grand Tour lives on to the modern-day, still influencing the destinations that tourists choose to visit today.
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