If we take a picture of the early 20th century, and even of the middle of that century, and take a picture of the late 20-early 21st century, it will be easy and striking to see how much things have changed, how much the world has changed, not only in clothing style, technology, and other material aspects, but in society as well; the last 50 years or so have seen a breakdown in some cases, a deconstruction and reconstruction in other cases of the values and ethics that framed our Western society, sometimes for generations.
And if we compare our modern world with the pre-industrial world, the gap that separates us and our forefathers is even wider, a feeling that certainly grasps most if not all of us, who are used to living in a world surrounded by technology and often directed by or towards economic imperatives. I was thinking about this issue after watching this documentary on the Holy Mountain in Greece. Europeans all know, even without necessarily being too conscious about it, that their continent is the priviledged vacation and tourism destination for tourists coming not only from America, but Asia and elsewhere. Any European living in America will certainly be amazed at how much Americans admire the old European–especially medieval–culture. This is understandable, since Americans are but Europeans, even if they believe that they have lost something in their history due to geographical distance.
What Europe has that attracts so many is its small medieval villages, the beautiful Baroque churches or Gothic cathedrals, the castles, the art, and, as importantly as those, the quite developped small-scale economy in this places that privileges artisans over large companies. Even though Europe–or, if we prefer, the European countries–has lost its position as world hegemon, it continues to attract for what has made it famous in the past, and which is a consequence of this past power: culture. Culture in all its forms: music, literature, and of course art. It is also a certain lifestyle that attracts many, a lifestyle that very often goes with the picturesque flowery medieval village. The past thus plays a central role in this: people want to feel something that is perhaps out of the ordinary, that changes from their daily, away from the business mentality. Quite ironically in fact, since people seek escape in the very place that produced the world they want to escape…
The role played by tourism in the discovery or rediscovery of Europe’s past is quite worthy of mention. This interest in the past is not new, but it has never occured on such a scale before, and it certainly was not an organized industry. One may say that it originated in the Renaissance, when Petrarch visited Rome to see the ancient city’s ruins, a visit which would trigger in him a sort of Italian nationalism through a nostalgy for the glorious past. For a few decades, tourism has increased more and more, resulting in the sometimes complete transformation of touristic places, be they villages, castles, churches, and others. The attractive aspects taken on by many old towns and villages is a product of this craze for the past; more than that, certain features, which were previously abandonned and, as late as the 1960s, would have been destroyed or sold by the communal authorities, were saved precisely for the sake of tourism. Since then, all the historical patrimony of the European countries is under the legislation of various governmental agencies and ministers for culture and tourism. Culture and history seem to be everywhere and thriving.