Travels in Greece (15th-19th cent.) at the Benaki Museum

It was the early Summer of 1483 when the German nobleman Bernhard von Breydenbach alighted on the island of Rhodes. He had sailed from Venice through Corfu, Methane and Candia and was heading to the Holy Lands of Palestine and the Sinai. He didn’t travel alone. His companions included other nobles, a painter and the Dominican friar Felix Fabri. The latter left us with the longest and most detailed narrative of any medieval pilgrim, streaked with piety and humour. Breydenbach printed the book of his adventures in 1846, illustrated with woodcuts of landscapes, buildings, people and animals. It is a monument to the era of pre-modern travel.

View of Heraklion (Candia). Bernhard von Breydenbach. 1486

The Collection

The Efstathios Finopoulos Collection, the most important collection with similar focus in Greece and one of the most important Internationally, is today part of the Benaki Museum Library after the Collector’s kind donation in 2013. In search of primary material, he used to regularly visit libraries and archives, as well as private collections. He gathered a wealth of material from reproductions and transcriptions of travel journals and letters of travellers who travelled around Greece.

The Collection includes important copies that belonged to historical figures associated with the modern history of Greece, such as King Othon of Greece, his wife, Amalia, and Queen Olga of the Hellenes, and the King of Wurttemberg, Wilhelm II. Also included are copies from personal libraries.

Travellers and itineraries

The need for movement and exploration drives people to travel. The need of securing a livelihood leads to the search for new areas, colonisation and trade. Scholars travel to meet with their counterparts and for pleasure.

In Greek and Roman antiquity, travellers were familiar with places, monuments and people up close. As first-hand observers, and collected material which expressed their travel experiences. Herodotus, the most ancient of Greek travellers, embellished a historical record of events with narratives of local and ethnographic character. Pausanias’s work, Description of Greece, was used as a travel guide.

At the time of the Renaissance in Western and Central Europe, interests and intellectual pursuits expended. People sought travel experiences with a renewed vision.

From the “Renaissance man” opening up to new horizons, we come to travellers on the Grand Tour and then to the early tourists of the 19th century, travelling in groups through travel agencies. The flow of travellers which are presented in this exhibition, began in the West, crossed the Hellenic world and headed towards the East. The main destination was Jerusalem, for the purpose of pilgrimage, and afterwards Constantinople. From Marseilles and Venice, travellers followed sea routes to the Eastern Mediterranean, with Sicily, Malta, Corfu and Kythera, Syra and Smyrna, as the main ports of call.

The printed testimony of travel as a whole, travel literature, would act as a means of self-knowledge for the traveller and a means of acquaintance with the “other”.  Itineraria, maps, dictionaries and travel guides, remain essential aids for the contemporary traveller.

Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

Duration of the Exhibition: 07/03/2018 – 29/04/2018

Opening hours: Wednesday, Friday 10:00-18:00 / Thursday, Saturday 10:00-00:00 / Sunday 10:00-16:00

All texts are excerpts from the publication dedicated to the exhibition.


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