Excursion from Athens to Nafplio in 1843, Theodore du Moncel

The era when modern periegetes or travelers, individually or in small groups, rediscovered and toured around Greece, observing its nature, history and civilization, has been a fundamental stage of Greek tourism. As a world phenomenon ‘Periegetism’ started from the quest for a new European identity based on Humanist education and classical studies. It was subsequently grown in the wake of geographic and economic expansion of European Powers, dramatic political events and technological change. Since the 18th century, rising incomes in the North, new consumption patterns, transport improvement, lower cost of travel and extended leisure time widened the scope. Antiquity-lovers followed in the steps of Pausanias, Herodotus and Pliny. They observed nature, admired ancient ruins monuments, showed interest in folk traditions and customs of local people, drew inspiration from Greek philosophers and became enchanted by the greek mythology.


The main form of travel during the 18th – 19th century was the Grand Tour. Young wealthy aristocrats toured around with friends, servants, teachers, doctors, artists and scientists. They secured hospitality and protection from high-ranking diplomats, local notables and Greek bureaucrats, their needs serviced by local ‘dragomans’. Strong emotions, promiscuity and initiation into the mysteries of the exotic Orient, were considered part of the experience. Admiration for the bucolic Arcadia did not exclude pillaging ruins or damaging monuments. Travelers wrote down their impressions or sketched and painted what they saw. Many were Philhellenes, among them the emblematic romantic poet George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), who supported the Greek Struggle for Independence and at the same time popularized the idea of tourism. He exerted a profound and lasting positive influence on European public opinion concerning 19th century Greece.


The new movement benefited particularly Athens – capital city since 1834 of the new Hellenic Kingdom. An Archaeological museum was founded in 1837, international exhibitions were organized and the ancient Olympic Games were revived in 1896. Since 1870, attracting travelers and illustrious foreign personalities was consciously pursued by the authorities in order to highlight modernization and generate support for national aspirations. Foreign visitors continued to be perceived as philhellenes, they were presented in the press as ‘totally enchanted and happy’, or as ‘swallows flying in the spring’. In early 20th century, while the Athenian middle classes were discovering ‘physiolatry’ and founded cultural societies, the terms of periegetes and ‘periegetism’ were still dominant in the Greek vocabulary until the Interwar years.

Margarita Dritsa, Economic History Professor