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First ever travel guide to go on rare public display at the British Museum this week
The first ever travel guide – made 500 years ago. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

LONDON.- An illustrated travel guide that was made over half a millennium ago is to go on rare display at the British Museum this week. It is the earliest example of a travel book and caused a sensation in Europe when it was first produced. The book - 'Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam' by Bernhard von Breydenbach - was made in 1486 and features the first ever accurate printed illustrations of some of the most important European and Middle Eastern cities such as Venice and Jerusalem.

It goes on public display in the exhibition Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art which opens on Thursday. The exhibition charts Europe’s interest and fascination with the Middle East which began through increased travel to the region from the 15th century and in part was driven by this book. The illustrations it contained were the first time many people in western Europe ever saw realistic depictions of these famous cities and before it’s publication, no one knew what these places looked like unless they had visited.

'Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam’ was produced by Bernhard von Breydenbach in Germany following his pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Venice in 1483–84. He was accompanied by the Dutch artist Erhard Reuwich who provided the illustrations. 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. 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 These few surviving copies are rarely displayed due to light sensitivity to the historical document.

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 this book, 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. 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.

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