Friday, November 9, 2007


Tourism seems like such a modern habit, but it actually started in the Middle Ages, with the development of the pilgrimage routes. Pilgrimage was a popular aspect of medieval religion – and a way to see more of the world, in an age when many people never made it farther than the next town. Although the destination was religious and many pilgrims were motivated by piety, there was also an element of tourism involved, as pilgrims saw new lands and new cultures. Pilgrimages ranged in length from a short trip to visit the nearest shrine to a trip of several years to the Holy Lands; popular destinations included Canterbury (England), Santiago (Saint James, in Spain), and Jerusalem, giving medieval tourists a range of choices, depending on the size of their purse and committments at home. As the popularity of pilgrimages grew, the major routes developed a tourist infrastructure, including hostels at regular intervals, food service, and even souvenir sellers; Santiago was famous for its cockleshell badges. The Canterbury Tales tells of a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, and all the characters on pilgrimage can still be found in a modern tour group, from the matron with the earthy sense of humor to the pious prig to the legalistic quibbler. We use buses and airplanes instead of horses and donkeys, but the basics of pleasure travel hasn't changed in over 600 years.

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