The Grand Tour

Baia in Decline

The 472 AD Pollena volcanic eruption left the Augusta aqueduct covered in ash. This cut off the water supply to all the region’s towns. The poor administrative and economic situation in Campania at this time, and Italy in general, prevented major repairs.

As if this were not enough catastrophe, the fall of the Roman Empire happened shortly after, in 476. The region saw Gothic Wars in the mid 6th century, the Lombard invasion in the 8th century and raids by Arab pirates became frequent in the 9th century.

Baia was now all but deserted, with just a few visitors throughout the middle ages.

On the 29th of September 1538 disaster struck yet again. An eruption formed a new volcano, Monte Nuovo, on the edge of Lake Avernus. Lake Lucrino became partially filled with volcanic ash. The eruption was preceded by upward shifts in ground level across the area that altered the geological structure of the region, destroying most of the thermal sources and the access roads to them. Baia was abandoned as a curative spa resort. The area reverted to a wasteland.

A Cultural Revival

The rich Greek and Roman cultural history and heritage survived in the classical education of Western European nobility. This heritage was, after all, what had shaped civilised Europe, through its philosophers, religions and mythology. Any respectable person would be expected to have appreciation of the classical themes portrayed in art and poetry – the heroic stories of the past and the influence they had made on their own way of living.

Italian culture dominated Europe during the 16th century, when its philosophy, arts and literature were widely appreciated, along with fashions in dress and life-style. It was high style. Italian artists travelled to Spain, France and the Austrian Empire. By the mid-seventeenth century, artists of other countries travelled to study in Italy.

The picture shows Charles Townley and his friends in the Townley Gallery at 33 Park Street, Westminster, London, England

The artist was Johann Zoffany and it was painted between 1781 – 1783.

Who were the Grand Tourists?

A journey to the Continent, mainly through France to Italy, was undertaken to improve the social and cultural awareness of already well-educated youths, usually men, but also young noble women. To gain an appreciation of foreign lands and customs and perhaps make useful contacts for the future. Greece was still under Ottoman rule and considered too uncivilised.

The typical Grand Tourist was a young man with a thorough grounding in Greek and Latin literature, some interest in art and a good bank balance. A person would travel with an accompanying tutor or guardian called a ‘Bear-leader’, responsible for his or her safety and financial control. The bear-leader also had to try to keep young men out of trouble. The undisciplined and sometimes violent behaviour of young Englishmen was often commented upon.

This caricature shows Dr James Hay as a Bear-leader, circa 1704.

Once in Italy a guide called a ‘cicerone’ was responsible for explaining the sights of the area.

The Grand Tour

The term ‘Grand Tour’ first appeared in the French translation of ‘The Voyage of Italy’ by Richard Lassels, published in 1670. This was the first tourist guide, but many more books and publications were to follow in the subsequent years.

The main cities to be visited were Paris and Italian cities such as Turin, Florence, Pisa, Padua, Bologna, Venice and a long stay in Rome. After excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 18th century, Naples and southern Italy were firmly on the Grand Tour, with an ascent of Mount Vesuvius and an appreciation of Greek architecture through Greek sites such as Paestum.

Anywhere too far south was considered uncivilised, as Creuzé de Lesser wrote somewhat unkindly:

“Europe ends at Naples and it ends there badly. Calabria, Sicily and the rest are Africa.”

Creuzé de Lesser, Voyage en Italie et Sicile

In 1796 Napoleon occupied Italy and travel ceased. Many treasures had been brought home as souvenirs in the previous 100 years and much of it still graces the country homes and gardens of England.

Lassel's Guide to Italy of 1670
Lassel’s Guide to Italy of 1670

Grand Tourists of the 1700s ~ Pompeo Batoni Portraits

On arriving in Rome it was usual to spend at least three months there, possibly a year or so. During this time the wealthy would commission a painting, by Batoni if at all possible.

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (25 January 1708 – 4 February 1787) was an Italian painter who specialised in portraits of the high number of foreign visitors travelling throughout Italy during their Grand Tours. Batoni won international fame thanks to his customers, mostly British of noble origin, whom he painted in famous Italian landscapes or with mythical scenes in the background. The Grand Tour portraits were later displayed in British private houses.

Please hover over the pictures to see details about each portrait.

Pompeo Sarnelli
& Antoine Bulifon

Travellers on the Grand Tour would take advantage of Antoine Bulifon’s wonderful guides to the Phlegraean Fields published by Pompeo Sarnelli. The popular guide had the grand title of:

 “La guida de’ forestieri, curiosi di vedere, e di riconoscere le cose più memorabili di Pozzuoli, Baja, Cuma, Miseno, Gaeta, ed altri luoghi circonvicini.”

“The guide for strangers, curious to see, and to recognize the most memorable things of Pozzuoli, Baia, Cuma, Miseno, Gaeta, and other surrounding places.”

This guide was published in a number of editions and the maps and sketches it contains gives us a glimpse of the sites in the late 1600-1700s.

The ruins at Baia

Bulifon Baia

The guide gives us a glimpse of the forgotten city that Baia had become, with the severe Aragonese castle on the left and the ‘Temple of Venus’ visible by the bay.

Bulifon Baia

At Baia there are three major Roman bath complexes, each distinguished by a conspicuously large, domed rotunda. These were about all that was obviously visible and these rotundas were erroneously described in the 17th century as the ‘Temple of Venus’, the ‘Temple of Diana’ and ‘Temple of Mercury’. They are all bath houses, not temples, even though some maps and local signs persist in calling them temples, even today. 

Later editions were printed in other languages and included an updated version of the map. The map was later reproduced in London in various publications.The hand-tinted example below is from Salmon’s “Modern History or the Present State of all Nations”. Bulifon Salmon
The oval caption states “The present Map of this most Curious and renowned Tract of Land has been sent from Naples to London by M. Bulifon in 1708 as being newly corrected by himself. He desires the Travellers to give him notice when they are at Naples of the remaining mistakes they will observe.”

English Grottoes

Romantic visions of the Greek Underworld inspired many a Grotto in England’s country gardens. In no small part this was due to sights seen on their Grand Tours. This was certainly the case of Sir Francis Dashwood at High Wycombe, who created a deliberate version of the underworld.

Dr Johnson, wrote a mocking but inaccurate description of Pope’s Grotto:

A grotto is not often the wish or pleasure of an Englishman, who has more frequent need to solicit rather than exclude the sun, but Pope’s excavation was requisite as an entrance to his garden, and, as some men try to be proud of their defects, he extracted an ornament from an inconvenience, and vanity produced a grotto where necessity enforced a passage”.

Lady Mary Wortley Montague was even more derisive in her poem:

Here chose the goddess her belov’d retreat
Which Phoebus tries in vain to penetrate
Adorn’d within with shells of small expense
(Emblems of tinsel Rhyme and trifleing sense)
Perpetual fogs enclose the sacred cave
The neighbouring sinks their fragrant odours gave


During the Italian Renaissance ancient Roman chambers had been uncovered, called grotte in Italian, in reference to their cave-like appearance. The Italian word grottesca became the name for a unique art style. The English adjective “grotesque” was first used in the early 17th century to describe the grotto-esque decorative style, but is now used to describe anything bizarre, incongruous, or unusual.

Hover over the pictures to see a description.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Vlad V

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this perhaps overlooked section of your website.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.