The world’s first travel guide is on display at the British Museum


We’re all about the travel guides here at Lonely Planet, so we’ll be among the visitors heading to the British Museum to see the world’s earliest example of one.

The central hall of the British Museum is a large round white space flooded with light from the glass ceiling
The earliest example of a travel guide is on display at the British Museum © Chris Hepburn/Getty Images

The 500-year-old guide, Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam, is on display as part of the exhibition, “Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art.” It was written by Bernhard von Breydenbach in 1486 and illustrated by artist, Erhard Reuwich, after their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In the exhibition, the book will be displayed on the ‘pull-out’ map of Jerusalem, the first-ever printed map of the city, with the Dome of the Rock at its centre.

Holy Land detail from Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam
The Holy Land from Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam © The Trustees of the British Museum

Because of its accurate depiction of the Holy Land, the guide quickly became sought after by pilgrims and was reprinted in new editions for decades. The version on display at the British Museum is a first edition and is in the museum’s collection. It is one of only a handful to still survive around the world. These few surviving copies are rarely displayed due to light sensitivity to the historical document.” Before this book, most of the depictions of places such as Jerusalem or Venice were totally made up,” says Giulia Bartrum, curator of German prints at the British Museum.

Venice from Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam
Venice from Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam © The Trustees of the British Museum

“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. In some ways, you can trace all the familiar trappings that tempt us to travel today, such as Rough Guide or Lonely Planet guides, Tripadvisor and even Instagram, back to this book, as they all offer tantalising glimpses of what wonderful places are out there in the world to see. But Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam did it first.”

Crete from Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam
Crete from Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam © The Trustees of the British Museum

Charting the fascinating history of cultural and artistic interactions between East and West, the exhibition explores the impact the Islamic world has had on Western art for centuries. Objects from Europe, North America, the Middle East and North Africa highlight a centuries-old tradition of influence and exchange from East to West. The diverse selection of objects includes ceramics, photography, glass, jewellery and clothing, as well as contemporary art, showcasing how artistic exchange influenced a variety of visual and decorative arts.

The exterior of the British Museum in London
The exhibition is on at the ​British Museum © The Trustees of the British Museum

Conceived and developed in collaboration with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, the exhibition will also go on display at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, from 20 June to 20 October 2020. The London exhibition runs from 10 October to 26 January 2020, and further information is available here.



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