TravelThe surprising image of Spain in one of the...

The surprising image of Spain in one of the first travel guides


At that time, the average daily budget for traveling in Spain for tourists was between 15 and 30 pesetas. We are talking about 1898. It was when Baedeker’s ‘Guide to Spain and Portugal’ was published, one of the pioneering publishers of travel guides.

The guide to Spain and Portugal was reissued in 1914. It is exhaustive, with eight chapters. Seven for Spain and one for Portugal. They are spread over a total of 567 pages.

The introduction contains all kinds of practical information. For example, there is talk about transport networks. Especially of the railroad and the steamboat. It is indicated that the train had speeds of about 15 miles per hour (24 km/h) at that time. But it is added: they can take “much longer”.

At this rate, the itineraries proposed by the guide are, logically, for travelers of his time: 3 months, 2 months and between 6 and 8 weeks.

In addition, the Baedeker of Spain and Portugal had important graphic support. In total 42 city maps and 14 plans of the most outstanding monuments. In the case of monumental plans, there are El Prado, the Alhambra or the cathedrals of Burgos, Toledo, Leon or Santiago de Compostela, among others.

A semi-literate and poorly educated Spain

But if there is something that attracts attention, it is the vision that is projected of Spain. «In educated circles, the foreigner is first seduced by the lively, lively and joyful of society». Also, he adds, “because of his welcoming spontaneity and his sometimes exaggerated education.”

But then it is stated that the traveler should “avoid serious topics of conversation.” The same goes for political and religious opinions. Better that you reserve them. Why?: “The pride of the Spaniards and their ignorance of foreign conditions lead to a confrontation that is inevitable in most cases.”

“The pride of the Spaniards and their ignorance of foreign conditions lead to a confrontation that is inevitable in most cases”

This is how blunt the Baedeker of Spain and Portugal shows when speaking of the Spaniards of the late 19th century. For this reason, she recommends that foreigners “reduce themselves to the role of a friendly and uncritical visitor.” Although she qualifies, to throw a cloak to the “lower classes” by stating that “they have much more common sense than their considered superiors.” Thus, a “tactful” traveler will not find it difficult to establish a relationship with them.

“Any individual expects to be treated as a gentleman”

There are two points that must always be remembered, according to Baedeker. On the one hand “you have to maintain a certain courtesy even with the humblest individual, who always expects to be treated as a gentleman.” On the other, “the traveler must put aside any rudeness or harshness that only serve to exalt the spirits of the rude Spaniards.”

In addition, it is assessed that the deal may be “easier for Americans than for Europeans.” According to the nineteenth-century guide “for the latter, the degree of equality between the middle and lower classes can be uncivilized.”

As for the advice for the traveler, “you should trust yourself more in Spain than in any other country in Europe”. “Waiters and other servants are not used to offering information, partly because of their illiteracy, partly because they only care about their own interest.”

«Waiters and other servants are not used to offering information, partly because of their illiteracy, partly because they only care about their own interest»

For this reason, he recommends that when asking questions on the street, even the simplest questions, only be asked “well-dressed people.” And he warns: you have to avoid lower-class people who “in cities like Cordoba, Burgos, Avila, Toledo or Granada follow in the footsteps of tourists to offer their services as a guide.”

Catalonia, “the most European”

Catalonia is described as “the most European” of all the Spanish regions. In the eyes of the authors “reminiscent of Italy although with a much less attractive setting.” “Catalonia supplies most of Spain with paper, soap, hardware and the products of its textile factories,” he explains.

In his opinion, the Catalans feel “attracted to the south of France” and, after explaining the historical context, he affirms that “they are always ready for revolt.”

“like the Basques, (the Catalans) are businessmen, forming a strident contrast to the slow-moving Castilians and lazy Andalusians”

“In the veins of modern Catalan, the ancient Iberian blood mixes with that of the Greeks, Romans, Goths, Arabs and Gauls”, it is detailed.

And here comes one of the most controversial parts, when in the chapter dedicated to Catalonia it is stated that «like the Basques, they are businessmen, forming a strident contrast with the slow-moving Castilians, with the lazy Andalusians, who are mere stalks. from the ground and are content with the satisfaction of the most elementary desires.

The Andalusians, “half European, half African”

The reference to Andalusia does not stop there. In the chapter dedicated to this region, the most picturesque in Spain for the authors, it is said that the historical vicissitudes through which it has passed explain the character of its inhabitants.

«They are half European, half African; at the same time Christians and pagans », he values. And he adds: “they have absorbed something of each successive conqueror and of his language.”

For this reason, in his opinion, “today Andalusian speech contains many more words of Arabic origin than Spanish (…) its dances are distinctively Oriental (…) and to this oriental influence the Andalusian owes his exuberant imagination”.

“You cannot imagine a greater difference between the proud and dignified Castilian and the volatile Andalusian, who accepts fun as a given, who sees everything through a magnificent glass and is always ready to enjoy the bragging rights ,” he continues.

“Nothing, on the other hand, is more charming than the demeanor of an Andalusian maja”, values ​​the guide. The maja is admired for “her wit, witty conversation, and grace rather than for her beauty.” Reference is also made to the Andalusian “salt cellar”.

Castilla, “a depressing and arid land”

There are no good words about Castilla in the introduction to the region. It is claimed to be “a dreary and often arid land, with few picturesque remains.” And much emphasis is placed on the desolation of the plateau.

“With few exceptions, the center of Spain has no forests.” According to the guide, “the Castilian peasant is an enemy of the forests.” The explanation is that “they give shelter to the birds that eat their grain.”

Going deeper into this lack of vegetation, it is said that “in La Mancha there are large areas in which nothing that can be properly called a tree exists.” For this reason, it is even stated that “hundreds of natives are born and die without ever having seen one.”

Madrid had “everything against” to be capital

In the year of the reissue of this guide (1914), Madrid had just over 500,000 inhabitants. From the capital it is valued that Felipe II chose it as such in a political decision. And it was despite the fact that he had “everything against” to be a capital: “an unfavorable climate, its irrelevance among many other surrounding cities or the lack of an important river.”

The political reason for this choice of Madrid as the capital, according to Baedeker, is that “it could not be Zaragoza from Aragonese, nor Burgos from Castilian, nor Toledo from the Visigoths, nor Cordoba and Granada from the Arabs.” For this reason it is “the youngest of the great Spanish cities”.

The Basques “fight for their freedoms”

The Basques appear in the guide as “much more civilized than the rest of the Spanish peasantry.” The quality of the main roads of the Basque Country and its focus on the iron industry stand out in the pages of Baedeker.

It is also stated that “that of the Basque people is the fight for their freedoms (in reference to the fueros)”. The guide estimates that “the passion for independence has moved them for centuries.”

Without a doubt, the Baedekers are behind the stereotypical construction of tourism. All in a few years in which the politically correct seemed not to have been discovered. Not in vain, also according to this same guide, the Greeks were “dirty”; the Italians, “dishonest”; and the Orientals, “stupid as children.” Guides from a bygone era that undoubtedly call our attention.

*If you want to read more about Baedeker guides, this article about the history of the first travel guides may interest you.

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