See The World’s Oldest Travel Guidebook At London’s British Museum

The golden age of travel guidebooks may have passed as digital solutions take over, but there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be found thumbing through an old copy of a destination guide. Visitors to London’s British Museum can now discover how the guidebook craze began, albeit behind glass.

The extremely rare first edition of Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam (A pilgrimage to the Holy Land) will become part of the exhibition Inspired by the East: how the Islamic world influenced western art, which runs from October 10 to January 26, 2020.

Realistic depictions for the first time

Written in Latin by Bernhard von Breydenbach in 1486 after his lengthy pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the book features detailed illustrations of Venice and Jerusalem from Dutch artist Erhard Reuwich who accompanied von Breydenbach on the journey. The author’s pilgrimage began near Mainz in the southwest of Germany, and took in Corfu, Rhodes and Cairo. He also wrote other guidebooks covering different parts of his trip.

While the guidebooks of today list restaurant recommendations and opening hours for attractions, this 15th-century version performed an entirely different function. At the time, those living in western Europe knew of these lands only through whispers. The book made an impact as it was the first time such realistic descriptions–text and illustrations–of these destinations had ever been made in print.

“Before this book, most of the depictions of places such as Jerusalem or Venice were totally made up," said Giulia Bartrum, curator of German prints at the British Museum, to Lonely Planet.

Believed to be one of only a handful of surviving first editions, the book will be displayed open at the pull-out map of Jerusalem. This is to believed to be the first ever printed map of the city.

Highlighting cultural exchange

The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. Items from their extensive collection of Islamic and Orientalist art are included that help to highlight cultural exchange between East and West over many centuries.

The diverse range of objects includes ceramics, photographs, glass, jewellery and clothing and contemporary art. The exhibition takes a deep dive into the Orientalism movement, in particular how North Africa and the Middle East were portrayed in a fantastical style in European and North American artworks.

Entrance to the British Museum is free, but tickets for this exhibition carry a £14 ($17.30) charge. Under 16s go free.

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website.

I was born in the U.K. but moved to Norway in 2011 and haven't looked back. I run a website and podcast for fellow expats, authored the Moon Norway travel guidebook, he