Tourists – are they strangers in the night?

Are tourists in the museums strangers to us – strangers in the night – like vessels passing the exhibitions, wondering, casting glances at the artifacts? Is there any chance of sharing love for the artifacts?

The world Tourism Organization defines tourists as people who “travel to and stay in places outside their usual environment for more than twenty-four hours and not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited.”

My museum, the Museum of Cultural History, the University of Oslo, has for the time being an exhibition of the Pilgrimages “Pilgrimages – sacred journeys past and present”.

 ”No other sentiment draws men to Jerusalem than the desire to see and touch the places where Christ was physically present, and to be able to say from our very own experience “we have gone into his tabernacle and adored the very places where his feet have stood.” 
Paulinus of Nola, late 4th century

The texts of the exhibition are in Norwegian and in English. To market this exhibition for tourists advertisements, in both Norwegian and English, have been placed in tourist magazines, papers and special magazines. There have been press releases and invitations, special guided tours, information at the tourist office in Oslo. We produced a newspaper, free of charge, with interesting articles related to the exhibition, and on the museum’s website there is a link to the exhibition with texts in Norwegian and in English.

The exhibition has been given special focus in the museum’s autumn programme, with many lectures and arrangements related to pilgrims and pilgrimages.  This programme has been sent out, along with the exhibition news paper, to over 6000 addresses. And in May I went to St. Petersburg with the other representatives from Oslo Town Council to talk about the Old Town of Oslo and, of course my museum, for a large group of Russian tour operators.

The exhibition opened on the 5th of June and this summer there has been an increase in the number of visitors with more than two per cent. It is not very much, but a positive trend. The exhibition also shows the classical artifacts in a in a well known connection, pilgrimage through centuries and places. This museum is visited by people from the area, but also tourists from all over Norway and some from aboard.

The other of my museums, The Viking Ship Museum, has the largest number of visitors in Norway - about 420.000 visitors a year. This is a typical tourist museum with the three best preserved Viking Ships in the world. But the museum was designed in 1914 by one of Norway’s most famous architectures, Arnstein Arneberg. The first wing was erected in 1927, the last in 1954. The museum was originally built for around 40.000 visitors a year, now there can be up to ten thousand a day.

This museum is monumental and like a grave tomb for the ships. One of the problems is there is no room for anything else. We cannot change the exhibition, we can not offer the tourists a cup of coffee and we can’t do anything about the horrific noise made when all the tourist guides talk at the same time. Perhaps not a good idea for me to say this, but for the people of Oslo, it’s a one-time museum. Once you have seen it, you know what is inside.

We recently managed to make small new exhibition on the mezzanine, where we displayed the human skeletons from both the Oseberg ship and the Gokstad ship. A lot of research has been carried out on these skeletons,  who for more than a thousand years ago were buried in the ships; the Oseberg lady, with perhaps a servant and 12 horses, sledges, wagons,  and every day utensils,  AND the Gokstad chieftain with a lot of hunting and warrior equipment. Along with the exhibition, many people have come to listen to lectures about the results of the research.

But although the Viking Ship Museum is a “must” for tourists, this summer we have had a decrease in the number of visitors of about 8 per cent – and among the tourists coming in groups, about 25 per cent. But for tourists coming alone, there has been a growth of 25%.

Cultural tourism

 The people who visit museums of cultural history can be characterized as “cultural tourists”. They travel to experience, learn and perhaps evaluate the exhibitions, history and heritage.  As such, they belong to the Western tradition and way of thinking, where visiting museums is seen as part of a classical education. The basis of this thinking is founded on the Greco-Roman and later Christian cultural heritage. We are not born human, it is said, and being human is something we become. Our natures are formed, developed and cultivated, intellectually, aesthetically, morally and socially. It is all about forming our personality in a confrontation with history, ancient and modern art and in the meeting with other people.

It is said the cultural tourism is the fastest growing segment in the tourism industry because there is specialization among tourists. And, in reference to the Pilgrimage exhibition, one form of this new specialized tourism involves religious travel or pilgrimages.

The start

Already the ancient Greeks and Romans travelled around in their world, and these travels left their marks in history:  the siege of Troy, Odyssey’s voyage home, the Olympic Games in Rome, the Roman campaigns in Europe, Asia and Africa. And, of course .the journey of the three wise men to Bethlehem.

The Roman philosopher Cicero (106 – 43 B.C.) writes about travelling in his work “Philosophy in Tusculum” in 45 B.C.: Those who are proud of having seen the Bosporus – where the mighty ocean divides Europe and Asia – imagine how they will feel when they see the whole earth and consider not only the earth’s position, form and outline, but also all the inhabited and uninhabited places on earth? 

As a philosopher Cicero wanted to prove that the soul is immortal. When the body died the immortal soul would make the longest journey ever and ascend up to the heavenly sphere, to its place of origin. Cicero promises the ultimate travelling experience for those who believe in the soul’s immortality.

I would just like to reflect for a second on the idea of the immortality of the soul and the need of the same soul to undertake a journey to the Gods or the forefathers. The idea is almost alike in all religions and beliefs. Is our travelling today just a preparation for the last voyage?

There’s no place like home

It is best to stay at home, thought the ancient Romans and Greeks and stressed their patriotism, love of home and the hardships of travel. But although Homer’s poem of Odysseus’ travels is full of trials and tribulations – and despite all this misfortune, Odysseus IS the big hero after all.

The only “proper” way to travel for Greeks and Roman, if they left their country, was east. At least once in a lifetime, a wealthy Roman was expected go to Greece to study art, nature and philosophy, and make a pilgrimage to sanctuaries, temples, oracles and places where the gods had been. A visit to a spa was for one’s health sake was also a tempting option!

One of the earliest pilgrims we know is Pausanias, who wandered around in Greece for 30 years (ca. 150 – 180 A.D.) and wrote down everything he saw in ten volumes. Pausanias wanted to see all the sacred places in his own country, Greece, and watch the ceremonies connected to the sanctuaries. His pilgrimage was an educational cultural voyage. Pilgrimages were not only made for the sake of salvation, better health or as a punishment - many were also drawn by excitement of getting out of their daily surroundings.

The church as a tourist magnet

Pilgrimage is the voyage to sanctuaries and the most powerful act is to touch a relic. Relics from the Holy Cross, remains from skeletons from the disciples, and all sort of things having belonged to holy people, attracted visitors to the church having these things in its custody. The Christians inherited the custom of inhumation from the Jews; in the Roman society cremation was usual. But the grave of Christ was empty after his Ascension and pilgrims and relic hunters had to focus their attention on other items.

Then the hunt for relics started; the more relics the more visitors, money and power to the shrine in question. Pilgrims also needed hostels and food and often gifts for the church and shrine. A pilgrimage grew more and more into a business...  

In 829 the Venetians plundered the grave of St. Mark, the Apostle and Evangelist in Alexandria in Egypt, and managed to bring the body out of the town which was then under Muslim rule.  Therefore the thieves slaughtered a pig and wrapped the saint’s body inside the dead animal. They knew that the pig was taboo for Muslims and the guards would not want to touch the animal.

The remains of the Apostle added power to Venice and its reputation in the Christian world; the mighty St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice is built upon the stolen bones of the saint. The market for relics increased and churches, monasteries and the royalty gathered enormous collections of relics of the most remarkable sort. For example, the Elector of Sachsen had a collection of more than 19000 relics. The Benedictines in Vendome (in France) had in their collection feathers from the archangel Gabriel’s wings and a rock crystal containing the tears that Jesus cried beside the grave of Lazarus.

Among the most unfortunate collectors of relics were some English clerics. They had bought a saint’s mummy for a large sum of money in Rome. When they came back home and were about to bury the mummy with a lot of ceremony, the mummy came too near a candle, caught fire and almost exploded and the remains of fresh skin covered the congregation. The mummy was fresh, they had been cheated.

The most famous and precious relics were those connected to Christ himself. But as he did not leave any human remains on earth, the collectors found bits of the Holy Cross and collected his milk teeth. There are now said to be 500 of Christ’s baby teeth. But the perhaps the most curious relic from Christ is his foreskin, from his circumcision when he was 8 weeks old.  The most well known is probably the one in the Cathedral of Metz in France.

There was at substantial growth in the wine industry in the wake of the pilgrims during late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Special hostels, public-houses and taverns for those on pilgrimage were built along the roads. In Medieval times several pilgrims drank their way through France and Italy on the way to Rome. A history from this period tells that when the Holy Roman emperor was on his way to Rome, he sent a servant who was a wine connoisseur to taste the wine before the emperor arrived. The servant was to write on the door of the tavern if the wine was good. Good was EST and very good was EST EST. When the emperor after some time arrived in Montefiascone near Rome it was written on a door: EST, EST, EST. It is told that the emperor’s party never arrived in Rome but stayed in Montefiascone. And the wine is still famous today.

The Grand Tour

I do not know if there is a connection between pilgrimages of the Middle Ages and the Grand Tour. Pilgrimages were often made for the sake of salvation, health or as a punishment; the Grand Tour was undertaken mainly by upper-class European young men of means. The aims for the Grand Tour were to educate English gentlemen. The custom of the Grand Tour flourished from about 1660 until the introduction of large-scale steam –powered transportation in 1850’s. Then travel became cheaper to undertake, easier, safer and open to everyone.

The Grand Tour is linked to the British aristocracy and wealthy families, but also youth from Northern Europe went on long journeys to visit the cradle of the Western civilization. The New York Times described the Grand Tour in this way: “Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust on the Continent.”

The main cause for travelling was to be exposed to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance and to do the aristocratic and fashionable society of the European continent. A Grand Tour could last from several months to several years. It was commonly undertaken in the company of a knowledgeable guide and tutor and, if possible, by several servants. The idea of travelling for the sake of curiosity and learning was a developing idea in the 17th century.

Grand Tourists could return home with crates of art, books, pictures, sculptures, and items of culture. These things would be displayed in cabinets, gardens and drawing rooms as well as in galleries built purposely for their display: The grand Tour became a symbol of wealth and freedom. But the travelers of the Grand Tour were also criticized for the lack of adventure and the Tour was said to reinforce the old prejudices about national stereotypes. Jean Gailhard observes in the Complete Gentleman (1678): “French courteous. Spanish lordly. Italian amorous. German clownish”.

The Grand Tour exposed the English upper-class to the cultural objects, paintings, music and art thus keeping the interest of these items open to the ruling class in the society. Perhaps this interest also formed the basis for the many Museums that came into being at this time.

Hans Sloane

Hans Sloane was first baronet and an Ulster-Scot physician and collector. His collections were donated to the British nation after his death and became the foundation of the British Museum.

Hans Sloane was born in 1660 in Northern Ireland. His father was the head of a Scottish colony and sent over by King James the first. Hans started to collect objects of natural history as a youngster. This interest led him to the study of medicine and pharmacy. After years in London he travelled through France spending time in Paris and Montpellier and taking his M.D. at the University of Orange in 1683. He returned to London with a huge collection of plants and other curiosities. In 1687 he went to Jamaica as a physician in the suite of the Duke of Albermarle. Unfortunately the Duke died soon after the arrival of Hans Sloane and his visit to Jamaica only lasted for about 15 months. On the return back to London he brought more than 800 new species of plants.

When Sloane retired from his profession in 1741 his library and cabinet of curiosities had grown to be of unique value. On his death on the 11 January 1753 he bequeathed his books, manuscripts, prints, drawings, flora, fauna, medals, coins, seals, cameos and other curiosities to the nation on condition that the Parliament should pay his executors 20.000 pounds; lot less than the value of the collection. The collection opened to the public in 1759 at Bloomsbury as the British Museum.  

Authors and artists on tour

Many authors, painters and composers travelled abroad from their own homeland during the 19th century. Schools of Arts in Germany in Dusseldorf attracted painters from all over Europe and formed its own, romantic trend in art. In Skagen in Denmark artists from Scandinavia stayed for the sake of the light around the turn of the century.

 Authors did their own trip abroad. To be local Tolstoy travelled abroad. He sought the freedom of the Western world.  For Tolstoy it was also important to learn about the school system of the West, as he wanted to found a school to teach the children of the peasants in Yasna Polyana. Tolstoy was a fan of the Swiss author and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and in 1857 he left Russia for his first European travel. But his first enthusiasm for Europe soon changed to dismay by the Nationalism and the materialism in the social conditions.

The famous Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen stayed for 27 years in Italy and Germany where he also wrote his most famous works: Brand and Peer Gynt. Composers sought each other and places where they could learn, be inspired and leave their daily life at home.

Artists travelled abroad in order to be free and develop their thinking at a distance to their own home. They had the possibility to reflect and open up to other cultures, social conditions and cultural heritage. It was possible to live together with colleagues, see the famous and sacred old buildings, discover new ways of life and evaluate ones own moral standards. All this influence on art and gave us the literature, paintings and music that can change lives.

Cabinets of Curiosities

Curiosity cabinets – also known as cabinets of wonders of the 16th and 17th century included all sorts of attractive or interesting objects. Rare items were especially prized. Peter the Great and other wealthy collectors amazed their visitors with never-before-seen shells, bones, medicinal plants, minerals, paintings, cannons and clocks. They were categorized as naturalia (products of nature) artificialia (products of man including textiles, coins, weapons, furniture, prints) and scientificalia (scientific instruments).

The two most famously described 17th century cabinets were those of Ole Worm (1588 – 1654) and Athanasius Kircher (1620 – 1680) These seventeenth-century cabinets were filled with preserved animals, horns, tusks, skeletons, minerals, as well as other types of equally fascinating man-made objects, sculptures wondrously old, clockwork automata; ethnographic specimens from exotic locations

The cabinets of curiosities were limited to those who could afford to create and maintain them. Often the kings themselves developed large collections. As for example Peter the Great’s Kunstkamera founded in St. Petersburg in 1727. These Kunstkammer or cabinet of curiosities was regarded as a microcosm or theater to the world and conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor microscopic reproduction.

These cabinets were only shown to visiting diplomats, the royal family and court and magnates. They were not open to the public.

I find there is an interesting connection between the pilgrims and pilgrimages, the Grand Tour travelers, the cabinets of curiosity and the modern museums.

The Museum of Cultural History

The Museum of Cultural History, in fact the building the Historical Museum, opened to the public just after the University of Oslo was founded. Before the 19th century there were no really museums in Norway only some “scientific collections maintained by a few academics.  

At that time Norway was a part of Denmark and when the Danish king sent out a notice to the officers of the Crown and the clergy that all Norwegian antiquities were to be sent to the king in Copenhagen. The Norwegian were furious.

On the 2nd of September 1811 the University of Oslo was established under the Danish king Fredrik the 6th. In 1828 the first exhibition of the Norwegian antiquities opened in a small room. The establishment of the cabinet of coins and medals was founded on the purchase of 6300 Greek and roman coins in 1817. The coins were not exhibited until 1826 when the University managed to find a room. The Ethnographic collection was opened to the public in 1857. Many of the collections in our museum have come to the Museum through donations, gifts bequeathed from people around the world, to mention one the Russian aristocrat, baron von Ustinows collection from the Ancient Middle East.

The Historical Museum was founded on National patriotism for the purpose of making Norway an independent country. Thus the Norwegian Government granted a great sum to the new building that opened in 1904 with all the three museums inside. This was the building for a new Nation, granted by a poor government.

Strangers in the night

We need the humanistic heritage to gain a cosmopolitan ideal and an established empathic attitude towards life. To encourage human reflection and to be able to evaluate yourself as a human being is necessary in order to keep a peaceful democracy. It is also a prerequisite for developing your own character and intellect.

We know something about our tourists – they are not strangers in the night. They are those who travel to experience the unique objects, those who are drawn to the places and museums where they can touch and feel the history and the culture of mankind near to their mind and soul. We must pass the culture and history to them as stories, as curiosities and as questions of the connection between ourselves and other cultures and periods of history belonging human beings.

Strangers in the night are those who do not visit museums. Can we raise the question – does everybody have to visit museums? Does everybody have to be interested? Are museums still going to be a place of interest if we work to please everybody? We can not make museums into Disney lands to please everybody.