17 July 2007

Holidays in the past

The Roman's Virgin Mistress, my current book that is out on the shelves this month, takes place in the seaside resort of Baiae (the modern-day name is Baia). It is where the upper class Romans went to escape the extreme heat of a Roman summer. Situated on the northern tip of the Bay of Naples, Baiae was littered with expensive villas. It remained the resort of choice from the late Roman Republic through to the Empire. The Emperor Hadrian, for example, went there to take the waters towards the end of his life. It was abandoned during the 1500s due to malaria outbreaks and was rediscovered during the 18th century. It helped to fuel the late 18th century fascination in the Roman period and was where early archaeological diggings took place.

Holidays, vacations and resorts are not something, people generally think of when they think about the past. And yet, nearly every society had some system of festivals or travel.

In medieval times, pilgrimages to holy shrines were popular. There are stories of pilgrims being crushed in Rome as crowds surged forward during Easter celebrations. There was also a system of inns to cater for the pilgrims. Later, one only has to think about the Grand Tours.

Much of the free time of the less well off revolved around community activities -- so you have the tradition of football matches and even the tradition of wakes weeks. Even when I first came in the North East of England, people still spoke in terms of the Newcastle fortnight -- when the factory workers went on holiday, often to the local seaside resort. However with the advances in the transportation network, and changes in working habits, holidays are no longer such a community based activity.

When I went last summer to Adirondacks, it was interesting to see how the resorts had developed there, and the different nature of the resorts as the general prosperity increased. I was also struck by the similarities they had with the Roman resorts -- places where the normal rules of society were relaxed and the clothing became less formal.

As we are now in prime vacation/holiday time, I wonder what other similarities or differences that people between today's holidays and those of the past. Festivals and holidays used to be community based, but now they are far more family based. Is this a good or a bad thing? Enjoy your summer holiday wherever you take it. After all you are continuing a tradition that stretches back to the dawn of humanity.


carrie_lofty said...

Unfortunately, going to conference was our summer holiday, although now that we're back living so close to Chicago, plans for autumn trips to the city are in the works. And since Keven and I just celebrated our 10th anniversary (while I was in Texas), we're planning to return to Cancun this spring. Niiiiice.

But I've been researching Sorrento, situated on the southern part of the Bay of Naples, so my fantasies about holidays have taken an Italian turn. I did that with researching Salzburg, too--learning more about these places makes me want to go there!

Michelle Styles said...

Oh SOrrento is lovely. There are a number of holiday companies that do villas in the general area.
Italy is a wonderful place to go on holiday to. Full stop. It just is.
The food is great and the people have always been very kind. Very family oriented.
This year, we are taking an autumn holiday to Malta. It is supposed to be lovely. However, because I am currently using the North East of England as a setting, trips are merely potential for research...

Tess said...

LOL - we're not really taking a holiday, unless you count moving into our new house in late August after 15 months in a 400 sq ft cabin with two young cats!!

And I don't see a problem with family oriented holidays as opposed to community ones, though sometimes those are fun too :) The small town we live in now celebrates its founder every summer with a weekend event.

Michelle Styles said...

Yes, moving into a much larger house sounds like a definite treat.

It is not so much a problem community v family holidays,(we tend to do many more family things for instance) but just interesting to see how things are changing and evolving. There are many reasons for it, but it makes for a different sort of experience.
Another side effect of the community type holiday is that prices tend to be more expensive when suddenly there is a large pool of people. A simple matter of economics but not so good if you are tied to school holidays...

Delia DeLeest said...

Since we live in a major tourist destination, we've learned to identify tourists rather easily. We recognize rental cars and try to hold our patience when they're driving aimlessly down the street, obviously trying to locate their lost hotel. We can pick them out at the beach and the stores also. People on vacation have a whole different feeling about them than those who are just living their daily lives.

Tourists are also easy to spot because they've got sunburn - the rest of us know enough to not fry outselves in the sun. ;)

Marianne LaCroix said...

Hi Michelle, Picked up your latest last week. Just loved The Gladiator's Honor. :) I am so glad Harlequin has seen there are more time periods in history than Regency, Medieval, and American Western.

Marianne LaCroix said...

Oh I guess I should say my holiday was going to the in-laws near Orlando and going to Disney with my five year old girls and hubby. The highlight seemed to be going to Medieval Times. My kids loved the knights on horseback.