Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1998


Early Modern Italy, English travel literature


Dr . Johnson's widely cited quote closely enumerated the central role Italy played in the aims of travelers of the early modern period. Italy, admired for its prestige as the location of an ancient civilization; and renowned as a center of learning, has remained an objective of travelers even to the present day. Yet sixteenth and seventeenth century Italy barely resembled the prosperous, stable, and productive city-states which dominated the Renaissance period two hundred years before. War and economic despair ravaged the Italian countryside and plagued its cities. Despite these complications, coupled by fears of the relentless Inquisition, travelers to Italy, especially the English, continued to visit the famed country in order to fulfill their utmost curiosities.

Travelers recorded their impressions of Italy in various mediums: diaries, letters, and guidebooks, which collectively has been defined by historians as travel literature. In English travel literature, writers exercised great freedom in their opinions and descriptions of the Italian people, culture, and religion. These expressed opinions and attitudes were ultimately shaped by the Englishman's background or identity, his religious beliefs and cultural mores, and the historical and political forces which further molded the English national conscience.

As an introduction to English travel literature and travel in Italy, the preliminary chapter will provide a discussion of the political situation of Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the history and background of travel to Italy, and the evolution of travel literature . A general understanding of these three topics will prepare the reader to sufficiently permeate into the minds of early modern travelers to Italy. How did these men view the current state of the peninsula, what were their ambitions and desires, what did they most fear, and how did travel impact their notion of Italians and Italian culture?

The following chapter will seek to confirm that most travelers, well-versed in the classics of ancient Rome and Greece, expressed grave disappointment when confronted with the true state of contemporary Italy. Many writers wondered why Italy did not appear as the great civilization described within their history books . In this contrast of the real versus the imagined, this chapter will examine the most common complaints made by travelers, such as the poor conditions reflected in the inns, the strange character and practices of the people, and finally the dilapidated state and further deterioration of the remains of ancient Rome.

The final chapter will expose the manifestation of religious conflict within travel literature itself. In the age of the Protestant Reformation and the ensuing Counter-Reformation in Europe, religious fervor was at an all-time high . English Protestant travelers expressed mixed feelings within their writings towards the religion of a people they simultaneously admired and despised. For the most part, anti-Catholic sentiment overwhelmingly dominated the letters, diaries and texts of Protestant travelers, and continued to greatly influence their outlook throughout their Italian journeys.



Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

British--Travel--Italy--History--17th century; British--Travel--Italy--History--18th century; Travelers--Italy--17th century; Travelers--Italy--18th century

Geographic Coverage

Italy--Description and travel; Italy--Description and travel--Early works to 1800; Italy--Relations--Great Britain; Great Britain--Relations--Italy


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