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"Another view” is an occasional series of posts presenting the sites and areas we see on our travels through the eyes of writers. From the great ancient sources via travellers of recent centuries to contemporary literature, it aims to reveal different perspectives across space and time.

All manuscript images in this post are based on images from the digitised version of Grünenberg's book, provided by Baden State Library (Badische Landesbibliothek) in Karlsruhe under a CC BY 4.0 license, and all have been modified either by cutting edges or by combining joining opposite pages into single images.

The image that triggered this post. Konrad von Grünenberg's drawing of Dubrovnik, as seen from the sea. It fills a double page in his travel report and it correctly emphasises the city's strong defences and its slope-side location. The fortifications as seen from outside are rendered quite accurately, with the initially Venetian fort of Lovrijenac (St Lawrence) on a rock spur outside Ragusa on the left and the strong harbour defences on the right. Inside the city, we can make out the Rector's Palace (with its tower, on the right side of town) and a large church, perhaps the predecessor to the current Cathedral of Saint Blaise.

A modern view of Dubrovnik from the same direction. (For some more detailed juxtapositions, see our gallery at the end of this post).

You'll be forgiven for not being familiar with the name Konrad von Grünenberg (or Grünemberg).

Who? I was not aware of him either, until quite recently, when a splendid illustration in my colleague Filip's post about Dubrovnik drew my attention. It's a beautiful, very detailed and highly recognisable view of the city as it looked in the late fifteenth century. Tracing its origins, I found a fascinating story, about one of the earliest comprehensive reports from an all-inclusive Mediterranean cruise. Definitely something worth sharing here...

We don't have a clue what Grünenberg might have looked like, but this is his probable sponsor, Emperor Frederick III of Hapsburg, as seen in Vienna's Portrait Gallery. (By Hans Burgkmair, Vienna, Gemäldegalerie).

An obscure townsman

We know fairly little about von Grünenberg. He died in 1494, probably in his seventies, in his home town of Konstanz (Constance) in southwest Germany. During the 1470s he had been the official responsible for the city's mint. He was from a 'good family', his father having been mayor, and he had some connection with the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. That's what we know of his career, and none of it would make him notable for this blog - if it weren't for the fact that late in his life, he wrote three books. One is a history of Austria - and of no relevance to us. The second is an attempt at a global compendium of heraldics, with beautifully rendered crests from all the known world and beyond (many of the European ones very accurate and the exotic ones made up) - of great interest only to specialists and enthusiasts.

A traveller and an early tourist

The third, however, is absolutely fascinating to us: nowadays known as Beschreibung der Reise von Konstanz nach Jerusalem (Description of the Voyage from Constance to Jerusalem), it is a detailed report about a pilgrimage trip to the 'Holy Land' that took place from April to November of 1486 - a time just a few years before Columbus's famous voyages, when the Americas were still undiscovered and when the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East seemed half a world away from Central Europe.

Such pilgrimages were quite popular for those (few) who could afford them at the time. There were obvious religious reasons to seek out the Holy Land. Combined with the beginnings of a Renaissance mindset and the growing curiosity that entailed, but also with the relative political stability of the regions it involved (the Eastern Mediterranean speckled with Venetian strongholds and Palestine then controlled by the Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo), they led to an upsurge in voyages, exploited for financial gain by the places they touched - an early form of tourism!

Modon, modern Methoni in the Morea (as the Peloponnese was called at the time), was a fortified Venetian town set on a headland. Today, it is dominated by the same headland and its atmospheric ruins, but the town has moved to the mainland and the fortification encloses empty, barren ground. The sea-gate with its causeway and outer fort, now expanded, is still in place.

The sea-gate at Methoni in the Peloponnese. Greece, with the characteristic Venetian pier, as seen from outside. (Image: Heinrich Hall)

The first systematic reports of these pilgrimages appeared in print around the late fifteenth century, just before the time of Grünenberg's voyage, and enjoyed great popularity. Grünenberg's text is not one of those: it exists only in four copies, all of them handwritten, only two of which appear to have been penned by the author himself - perhaps as personal mementos, perhaps as gifts for his sponsors and certainly also as advice for prospective pilgrims.

A keen visual observer

Of these two, the one now in Gotha is an expanded text, incorporating information from other travellers and using fine but rather 'conventional' images, most likely commissioned from a professional artist and definitely copied from the wood-engraved illustrations of an earlier report. The other manuscript, now in Karlsruhe, however, is considered the original version. Grünenberg appears to have produced it from notes and sketches he must have made during the trip itself. Perhaps most importantly, it includes a series of 32 coloured drawings in his own hand. Grünenberg was by no means a great artist (although he may have received some training), but his images, deftly drawn and well-observed, have great authenticity, showing the various places along the route as he saw them. For Peter Sommer Travels, they are of great interest because they include 'portraits' of no less than nine destinations we visit on our itineraries! Six of these are in Croatia (three of which we visit on our Northern Dalmatian cruises and three on our Southern Dalmatian cruises), and three in Greece (one visited on Exploring the Peloponnese, one on Exploring Crete and one on Cruising the Dodecanese).

Grünenberg delivers a wonderfully well-observed view of Rhodes. The harbours are placed correctly, with the windmills (some of which are still in place five centuries later) indicated, the Marine Gate portrayed very well and the Palace of the Grand Masters is in the right place. Internally, he shows the Street of the Knights fairly correctly, and the other main thoroughfare, now Sokratous Street, in a simplified manner. The captions, indicating which 'tongue' (national grouping) of the Knights of Saint John ran each section of the walls, are accurate. It is a unique source from a witness who saw Rhodes as run by the Knights.

Initially, I was planning for this post to simply present those images with a little comment, but on reading Grünenberg's text, I soon realised that would be short-changing our readers too much. Of course, this is not the place to summarise the entirety of his report, but there is room here to briefly highlight some of its most remarkable aspects.

The opening paragraphs of Grünenberg's manuscript.

A perfect introduction:

The text starts with a succinct explanation of its purpose, a definition that could stand ahead of any travel report and that could nearly serve as a motto for what we at Peter Sommer Travels, together with our experts, are trying to do on all our trips:

As we humans are not born just for ourselves, and as nature also does not love what is single and separate, and following a line written by Archytas of Tarentum, who explained that a human, if brought by the power of God to a place from which he could view the nature and essence of the whole world and the beauty of the universe, would scarcely enjoy that beauty and wonderment if he did not have someone to report it to afterwards, therefore I, Konrad von Grünenberg, Knight, have reported (...) the strange, beautiful and wonderful things I saw during my pilgrimage (...) in the the following little work.  

What a nice thought! He is saying that experience is there to be shared and enjoyed together, that knowledge is barren and meaningless if not communicated.

Grünenberg's view of Hvar (he gives it the Italian name Lessina) shows a simplified but clear view of the place. Two churches are visible within the town, which is characterised by the strong walls surrounding it and linking it with the fortress on the hill above, as they still do today.

A hands-on approach to the necessities of travel:

The first part of the text is immensely informative. Much of it is advice on 'what to bring', similar to the advice we offer our guests in the info packs they receive prior to a trip, but a little more extensive (no wonder, as his cruise did entail over 20 weeks at sea!). He recommends preparing a shopping list in writing and acquiring everything needed in the markets of Venice before engaging in any sightseeing. What follows is extraordinarily specific. He proposes buying a bed, four sheets, an extra blanket, a pillow with two covers, pins to affix them and extra pillows as needed. A large wooden chest is useful for storing clothing and for sitting on. Five small barrels of water, copious supplies of biscotti (ship's biscuit), a supply of eggs and cheese as well as a cage of chickens help to supplement the on-board catering. Also, he advises to bring a tablecloth, a hand towel, a spoon, several bowls, a basket for longer-lasting food and two clay jugs, one for water and one for wine. For clothing, he suggests a hooded coat, a shirt, four undershirts, two hats, four kerchiefs, two pairs of linen trousers, leather boots and several pairs of shoes. Next, he says one should bring ginger, rock sugar and viola juice against the thirst, and something aromatic to spread under one's nose to avoid nasty smells! Further, he recommends equipment for land excursions: a portable bottle and a day-pack ("a sack to hang around your neck" when walking) and a pair of wooden stirrups ("if you bring iron ones, people will take them off you"!). Pocket money is also mentioned, as are fire-lighters and wax candles. A lidded chamber pot and two urine bottles made of glass complete the picture...

I hasten to add that you won't need most of these things on Peter Sommer Travels' tours and cruises!

Zara (now Zadar) in what is now Croatia was the second major port Grünenberg saw outside Venice. His sketch of the town in its peninsular setting is quite accurate. Many churches are mentioned in the text and included in the image, including the distinctively circular St. Donat (near the left) and the top of the façade of St. Anastasia (in the middle).

On our cruises, we provide you with a cabin, bedding, at least three meals a day, en-suite sanitary facilities, and a lot more. Grünenberg probably had a fairly privileged experience of his trip, but we spread those privileges more widely these days. That said, the advice on bringing a range of versatile clothing is still valid (linen trousers are still a good idea, but go easy on those hooded cloaks), and that on day-trip equipment is still on our list more than 530 years later! We do recommend a day-pack (shoulders rather than neck) and at least one portable water bottle.

Grünenberg's image of the galley he travelled on.

An all-inclusive deal:

This is the part of Grünenberg's report that I found most remarkable. He states that the leading people should find an appropriate number of like-minded pilgrims to look for a ship together. Grünenberg lists 27 of his fellow travellers by name, coming from Germany, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Hungary, including noblemen, clerics and city burghers like himself (he probably received his knighthood in Jerusalem). Since most of them would have been accompanied by teams of servants, the total number may have reached up to 150. Together, they approached an experienced 'patron', a Venetian shipowner/captain named Agostino Contarini (whose family monopolised the pilgrimage trade at the time), to negotiate their rate. They agreed on a fare of 38 ducats a person (half to be paid in advance, the other on arrival in the Holy Land). It is quite impossible to convert Late Medieval money to any modern equivalent, but this sum might have bought you a moderate dwelling in Central Europe at the time.

Grünenberg shows a view of the thriving city of Candia, modern Heraklion or Iraklio on Crete, that is hard to decipher, because much has changed there and he may not have entered the city all that much. The Venetian arsenals in the port are the clearest element of his sketch (although their shape is not correct) and the harbour defences also appear accurate. In his text, he notes the flat roofs of Cretan dwellings and they are emphasised in his sketch. He indicates a Greek Orthodox church outside the city to the east (left) that cannot now be identified, and a horizontal windmill (which he found quite extraordinary) to the west. The little boat on the left shows pilgrims going ashore from the Contarini galley.

For that rate, Contarini was to provide each passenger with the following (based on the Grünenberg text and other sources from that time): the ship (a galley) and crew, transport to the Holy Land and back, protection from piracy, a place to sleep on board, two meals a day except when in port, customs duties, fees for local transport (donkeys) and for safe passage, as well as larger tips. In essence, this was an all-inclusive deal, with the passenger required to make his own way to the point of departure and back home after the trip - just like our cruises! Grünenberg praises Contarini for his experience and professionalism, while he criticises the quality (and quantity) of the food and wine served aboard. He also recommends securing a sleeping place near the centre of the ship and close to a hatch leading to the open deck - but not right underneath one!

Grünenberg's portrait of Korčula, the capital town of the island of the same name and one of the most pleasant spots off Croatia's Dalmatian coast, is quite accurate. He gets the town right, but exaggerates the slope beyond it into a mountain...

Incidentally, Grünenberg's ship was closely followed by a second one of similar size, with a similar number of passengers aboard. At least three other members of the overall group wrote up reports of the experience.

A standard cruise route:

Grünenberg's trip followed the same itinerary that nearly all such pilgrimages took, permitting for a bit of variation due to wind and weather and favouring Venetian-controlled ports when possible. From Venice, they crossed to Istria, where they visited Poreč and occasionally Pula. Then they followed the Dalmatian coast, via Zara (Zadar), Šibenik, the islands of Hvar and Korčula, to Ragusa (Dubrovnik). Having passed the Albanian shore, they stopped at Korfu (Kerkyra), then at Modon (Methoni) in the southwest corner of the Peloponnese. From here, it was a long and open crossing to Crete (usually to Candia, modern Heraklion), then eastwards to Rhodes. Avoiding the mainland of Anatolia, they would then use one of several ports in Cyprus, finally crossing to Jaffa. In Grünenberg's case, this leg of the voyage took about nine weeks. About three weeks were spent in the Holy Land and the return trip followed the same route (but took 13 weeks!). It is clear that Grünenberg went ashore wherever he could, on the one hand to get out of the confinement of the ship and on the other to explore the ports they visited. We need not assume that all pilgrims had the means or impetus to do so, but he also mentions the importance of restocking personal supplies along the way.

There is a lot more to discover in this early account of a long-distance voyage, but the impressions and images assembled here should suffice to give an impression. You can admire the full manuscript with all its drawings on the Baden State Library's website.

It's certainly fascinating to realise that on our tours and cruises we do not just encounter the traces of the many peoples and cultures that inhabited the sites and regions we visit, but also the footsteps of our own forebears, the travellers of the past. Through works like Grünenberg's, we come a little closer to understanding their experiences. Let's see where else we encounter them on Peter Sommer Travels' future trips...

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