Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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 The word tourism derives from the verb tour meaning "travel." Travelers, whether alone or in a group, date back to ancient times—the sign, perhaps, of an innate need in man. In ancient Greece, for example, people would travel to attend the Olympic Games or to worship the gods in particularly important temples.

In pre-Christian times, the oracle at Delphi played an especially important role in ancient Greece. The panhellenic religious feasts held at Olympia every four years and at Delphi led to the two sites becoming famous outside Greece. The oracle at Delphi, in particular, exercised a strong attraction, drawing a large number of pilgrims.

Latin literature in its turn often mentions the otia , the periods of free time that the upper classes devoted to activities other than work. The horae subsicivae of the Romans, for example, were given over to leisure activities as a well-earned rest after work. During their otia, the Romans used to visit cities with particular climatic conditions, such as Pompeii.

The Middle Ages are marked by journeys and pilgrimages to holy places. This is the period in which "religious tourism" became popular with its interdependent means of transport, accommodation for pilgrims, and stops along the route at which peddlers would sell "relics." The most common destinations of the period were Santiago de Compostela, Czestochowa, and Rome.

In the Middle Ages, pilgrimages were a collective phenomenon that was an integral part of the Christian world. Pilgrims were considered to be extremely spiritual and were held in high regard by society. Pilgrims were "the initiated" who sought to free themselves from the structures surrounding them and to ascend to a new level of existence. To go on a pilgrimage meant leaving behind the worldly aspects of life so as to concentrate on the purity of one's faith. When they returned home, pilgrims were greeted with admiration and were aware of having taken a further step toward spirituality.

In Medieval times, the ecclesiastically legitimated pilgrimage represented elements of a very precise nature: the "movement" of the journey, the religious "motivation," and the "destination," which had to be a place that was considered holy. In general, pilgrimages arose from the search for salvation and, sometimes, the need to be physically healed. Medieval travelers undertook their journeys for a purpose—to increase their spirituality—and in this sense pilgrims in the Middle Ages were clearly different from those who traveled to satisfy their curiosity.

In the seventeenth century, those traveling for the purposes of tourism emphasized the search for truth, but the real change in the nature of tourism came about in the following century. With the reduction in working hours, more leisure time became available, and cultural tourism, with the accent on art and poetry, became popular. The major change dates to 1828, the year in which George Stephenson invented the steam locomotive. This was also the period of the "grand tour of Europe" of the English aristocracy and the no less famous "Journey to Italy" of the German nobles, intellectuals, and artists who were treading in the footsteps of Goethe. This was soon followed by visits to spa towns.

As time passed, "tourism" came to mean the opportunities available to the increasing mass of individuals who felt attracted by these offers of excursions for pleasure. The growing demand led to the birth of travel agencies; the first was founded in Leicester in 1841 by Thomas Cook. He went on to become famous because, in 1866, he organized the first tour of the United States and, in 1872, the first round-the-world tour.

At the beginning of this century, tourism was turning into a business, although it slackened in the first half of the century, owing to the two world wars. After these difficulties, tourism came to signify the personal transfer from one place to another of income for the purposes of consumerism as the result of economic well-being and technological progress.

Tourism has led to the creation of new habits and different behavior and life models as well as a different conception of time. It has generated a movement of culture that encourages travelers to see and understand social, cultural, and environmental differences: The homo turisticus has become the symbol of an evolved society.

Today, the old pilgrimage sites have begun again to attract masses of pilgrims, the difference now being that the pilgrims also come across tourists on holiday. What does this mass movement signify? A search for salvation or a return to the roots of the past as a form of resistance against the rationality of modern times? Without a doubt, the tourist industry and the media are offering pilgrimages as consumerism. Given that tourists share the same attitudes as pilgrims—in other words, the search for authenticity at different levels of depth and involvement—it could be said that pilgrims are partly tourists and that tourists are partly pilgrims. Thus they complement one another; the promotion of "religious" tourism today, seen as both devotional and cultural, is proof of the existence of this common "search."

The rediscovery of pilgrimages also shows that religious values, doctrines, and institutions have lost nothing of their status in, and their influence over, everyday behavior. This means that the modern individual is seeking transcendental values to overcome the fragments, the discontinuity, of modern society and that he or she is the "pilgrim tourist" of modern times.

Luigi Tomasi


R. Barresi, Lo sviluppo del turismo (Naples: Liguori, 1984)

M. Boyer, Le tourisme (Paris: Seuil, 1982)

E. Cohen, "Toward a Sociology of International Tourism," in Social Research 1(1972):164-182

N. Costa, Sociologia del turismo (Milan: Iulm, 1989)

N. Costa, "Il Pellegrino ed il turista," in Politica del turismo 3-4(1991):54-60

N. Doiron, L'art de voyager (Sainte-foy, Québec: Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 1995)

D. MacCannel, The Tourist (New York: Schocken, 1976)

M. L. Nolan, Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989)

D. Pearce, Tourism Today (London: Longman, 1987)

"Pilgrimage and Modernity," Social Compass 2(1989):138-245

A. Savelli, Sociologia del turismo (Milan: Angeli, 1989)

S. L. J. Smith, Tourism Analysis (Harlow, U.K.: Longman, 1989)

J. Sumption, Pilgrimage (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1976)

V. Turner and E. Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978)

E. Vauchez, La spiritualité du Moyen-Age Occidental (Paris: Puf, 1975).

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