Contributor: Simon Bainbridge
Location: The Alps
Description: The summit of Mont Blanc was first reached in 1786, when the Chamonix-based doctor Michael-Gabriel Paccard and the crystal hunter Jacques Balmat attained the highest point in Western Europe. The following year, the Genevan man of science, Horace Bénédict de Saussure, fulfilled his obsessional desire to reach the loftiest of vantage points, which for him became the most elevated of outdoor laboratories; he spent four hours on the summit conducting various experiments. De Saussure, best known for his four volume Voyages dans les Alpes (1779-1796), speedily published an abbreviated narrative of his ‘Journey to the Summit of Mont Blanc’. De Saussure’s evocation of his mountain ascent was a major contribution to the developing genre of Alpine travel writing, which became a key form in materialising and transmitting Romantic ideas and sentiments across Europe.
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Contributor: Patrick Vincent
Location: Musée Alpin, Chamonix
Description: The Livre d’or de La Flégère, a 635-page, folio-sized, leather-bound book held at the Musée Alpin in Chamonix, is one of the few extant alpine visitor books from the first half of the nineteenth century, and the only one to cover such a wide time span. It contains over fifteen thousand names, comments in various languages, and roughly a hundred and fifty poems, sketches, and doodles, offering us rare insight into the cultural practices of European Romantic travel as well as the concomitant commoditizing of the Alps. Belonging to what historian Kevin James has described as ‘an experimental space of self-exposure’ with its well-established dramaturgy, visitor books such as this one played a central role in disseminating and democratizing the Romantic Sublime.
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Contributor: Patrick Vincent
Location: Montenvers, Chamonix, France
Description: Built in 1795 as a refuge for travellers visiting the Mer de Glace, the Temple de la Nature immediately became a popular tourist attraction and one of European Romanticism’s most recognizable landmarks. It normally took travelers two and half hours by mule to ascend from Chamonix to the Montanvers meadow, located 1915 meters above sea-level. Accompanied by guides and porters, they often rested half-way at Claudine’s fountain, named after the heroine of Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian’s Claudine, nouvelle savoyarde (1793), before braving a ravine infamous for its avalanches. At the refuge, they were welcomed by a resident shepherd and could take refreshments, including milk mixed with kirsch, or purchase crystals, stone paper weights, and other curiosities. The most popular activity, however, was looking through the visitor book, leaving one’s own name with comments, but also copying the choicest inscriptions. A visit to the Temple de la Nature thus enabled ordinary tourists and celebrities alike to admire one of the Alps’ most spectacular glaciers in the last years of the Little Ice Age, while also participating in the period’s vibrant album culture and contributing through it to a transEuropean tourist sensibility.
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