In the 17th century the Grand Tour was a must – do for young artists.
What was it about?
At the beginning it was conceived as the mobile ending of school, a big journey through Europe that always included Italy as final stop. Artists, writers, young intellectuals and architects used to leave in order to discover a new truth and a new perspective on the world.
It was a great opportunity to broaden cultural horizons, to elevate social status and, above all, to experience new adventures.
During the time where the spread of culture was entering a new era, the need of travel was felt in order to enrich the education and, in the case of artists, to study and understand the real origins of what seemed to be just written words and confusing images.
The Grand Tour was seen as a cultural pilgrimage that could last months, even years, and Italy – defined from Lucrezio as Mater Tellus, was the most attracting destination due to its vibrant atmosphere, fascinating landscapes and beautiful cities. The homeland of Dante, Petrarca, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Raffaello, Brunelleschi, Vivaldi and Galileo was a special stop in the tour.
Architects couldn’t avoid to see the artifacts of the ancient Roman and Greek or the beauty of Renaissance.
Nowadays, years later, this stimulus has not lost its importance, even if costumes are changed and the idea of travel sound much easier than it was before.
Obviously, it is not possible to speak of Grand Tour anymore, but even if the name has changed and travels have a completely new perspective, the journey itself and the vision of something new, which goes over the usual reality, always remains extremely valuable.
Calvino describes in his famous book Invisible Cities, Le città Invisibili, the journey of Marco Polo through different cities. Each of them gave a specific stimulus to the travellers’ conscience:
“…anche le città credono d’essere opera della mente o del caso, ma né l’una né l’altro bastano a tener su le loro mura, D’una città non godi le sette o settantasette meraviglie, ma la risposta che dà a una tua domanda.”
(“…also cities believe to be work of mind or of chance, but neither the first or the second one is enough to hold up their walls. You don’t enjoy the seven or seventy wonders of a city, but the answer that it gives to a question of yours.”)
With this sentence the Italian writer perfectly expresses the aim of travels, the need to discovery that always include some questions – it is our goal to find the answers in different places.
Which is the link between architecture and travels?
It is Architecture itself that invites to travel. It is the pure expression of the civilization in which is rooted: it has social, humanistic, multiple value – it can avoid suffering influences of other realities.
Architecture is a synthesis, and so architect cannot refrain from travelling.
Grand Tour was born as cultural and educational enrichment, and this practice is fundamental for architects.
Regarding questions and answers given by cities, a big chapter about Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn or even Mies van der Rohe should be opened. Every kilometer traveled helped to change each architect’s personal perspective about architecture.
In 1907, Chales-Edouard Jeanneret – that will become well known as Le Corbusier, made his first journey through Italy. Pisa, Firenze, Venezia, Siena, Bologna, Padova: all stops were documented by photographs, sketches, drawings and paintings. Maxxi museum in Rome also dedicated an entire exposition to the famous architect: L’Italia di Le Corbusier.
So what does travelling involve?
Obviously, it is first of all a source of interest and inspiration, but also a strong moment of unsureness and of certainties’ questioning.
The journey itself can be compared to a pilgrimage. As in the past pilgrims would leave their homes, families and comforts to walk for miles and mile with just a backpack, the same did (and still do) architects to feed their need of discovery.
The fact itself that Le Corbusier travelled sixteen times in Italy is the proof that every single experience is like the second reading of a book during a life time – it gives emotions, feelings and suggestions that are every time different.
Louis Kahn, on the other side, was born in Estonia and lived in Russia until the age of four, when he left to Pennsylvania with his family. He is another example of architect that founds in travels the essential character and leitmotiv of Architecture. Specifically, about the journey in Italy he wrote in 1950: “I realized that Architecture in Italy will be source of inspiration for the future work”. Kahn just discovered Italian Architecture.
How is the need travel that Architects always felt in their soul related to the education of young architectural students?
At the present time architectural students are extremely lucky: all institutions give the privileges to travel, and many program ( for example Erasmus, Campus Mundus, Overseas…) allow to make real the wish to experience the word. These scholarships and exchange programs helps young professionals to experience different cultures and lifestyles: the aim is to create an interconnected world.
The journey itself is all about learning and education – it involves direct contact with different cultures, difficult moments of confrontations and, as already stated, it is a special time of certainties questioning.
Ideas always change when living abroad and it is perfectly know that also the student that come back is anymore the same person that left the comfort zone of the hometown.
Traveling is an essential part of everyone’s personal growth — especially as part of an architect’s continuing education.
If education starts with books, it always has to continue through experience.
The power of those real memories is stronger than just reading facts — it shapes who we become and allow us to perceive little things that were unknown before. Architecture is much more than concrete buildings with foundations.
It is all about sensorial experiences, landscapes, cultures, ideas and inspiration.
Therefore, just fix your next destination and get ready to broaden your horizons.