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Alphabets, Myth and Tourism

Kim H. Veltman
Alphabets, Myths and Tourism, First International Workshop. Human-Computer Interaction, Tourism and Cultural Heritage (HCITOCH 2010), Brescello, 7-9 September 2010, Bergamo: Blue Herons, 2010, pp. 1-6.


The word tourism is linked with tours. In Antiquity and the Middle Ages, it was frequently linked with trade routes such as the Silk Road and with pilgrimages to holy places. The silk routes inspired the idea of caravanserais, which were combinations of bazaars and early motels which led to souqsi and covered bazaars and were forerunners of today’s shopping malls. The grand bazaar of Istanbul with 58 streets attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.

During the Renaissance, the idea of study tours evolved when painters such Brunelleschi went to Rome to study ruins and antiquities. In the 1660’s, the tour became linked with the idea of a Grand Tour, especially linking Britain and Italy. The rise of modern transport systems of trains and later planes has greatly expanded the range of tourism from a few privileged travellers to something potentially available for everyone. This expansion also transformed earlier goals connected with learning, acquiring maturity and culture, to modern ones of recreation, entertainment, distraction and even escapism.

Aside from natural beauty, throughout the centuries the focus of tourism has tended to be linked with objects in the form of ruins, monuments, buildings, churches, museums, collections, typically summarized as vedute, mirabilia, or simply as the “sights”. The works of 16th century painters and engravers such as Francisco de Hollanda, Martin van Heemskerck, Hieronymus Cock, Androuet Du Cerceau  made this into a European fashion. They pointed the way to lists of “must sees” that led to the Baedeckers of the 19th century and the Guides Bleus, the detailed Guida d’Italia series of the Touring Club Italiano as well as more popular guidebooks for every major city,  and publications of local events ranging from magazines to entertainment and tourism sections in newspapers.

A second strand of tourism has focussed on souvenirs. One class of these has been miniature versions of the sights: portable versions of the Colisseum or Eiffel Tower, mini versions of Michelangelo’s David and of course prints and postcards. Another class of souvenirs has focused on unique local products. These are typically handicrafts in the form of pottery, plates, wood carvings, local ornaments and jewelry. Many of these merely produce local scenery in the form of a decorated vase or a painted plate, e.g. a view of the Bay of Naples or the Ruins of Rome. A subset of these handicrafts does something rather different: they reflect the local beliefs, myths and traditions of a given tribe, people or country. They are typically associated with religious art, handicrafts and folk art. This subset is the topic of the present paper.

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