It might seem like travelogues, how-to lists, and trip-planning articles are a relatively modern business, but travel guides actually date back to the 15th century. Indeed, the world’s oldest known travel guide was written by Bernhard von Breydenbach in 1486, and now it’s on display at the British Museum. The guide was written after Breydenbach’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land, starting in Oppenheim, Germany, and features illustrations of Venice and Jerusalem.
Called Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam, meaning “a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” the book was the first time many people in western Europe saw realistic depictions of these destinations. Giulia Bartrum, curator of German prints at the British Museum, said, “The large panoramas of famous cities are what make this book so remarkable, and are what made it a 15th-century ‘bestseller.’ Before it, most of the depictions of places such as Jerusalem or Venice were totally made up. Very few people in Europe had ever visited these places, so they had no realistic idea of what they looked like until this wonderfully detailed guidebook came along.”
The book is part of an exhibition called “Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art,” which will feature a small collection of surviving first editions of the book. It runs from October 10 to January 26, 2020, so there’s plenty of time to go see it. Tickets start at $17 and can be purchased online.