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Verso L'estrema Thule

Bibliography on italian voyages to the North calotte until 1945

The text is based on an article in the bibliography by Dr. Luigi G. de Anna

To main page     Piero Querini         Francesco Negri        Giuseppe Acerbi             |                Northern lights         Biblioteknett Nordland

Media Thule, sculpture by Olafur Gislason, placed nearby Ofotfjorden.  From: Artscape Nordland (54 Kb)   Storm.jpg, painting by Francesco Guardi (1703-1765) Venezia, Italy (38 Kb)
1. Thule is an ancient myth.  It was born in Antiquity, when Pytheas of Massalia (IVth century B.C.), according to some scholars, sailed from the Mediterranean Sea
to Norway.  Not all Greek and Roman geographers and historians believed that such a voyage could be possible, but the route to Thule, at least in the
pages of books, was opened. The name Ultima Thule has later been used as a term to describe the final outpost.
Italians did not find this route an easy one.  The early history of Italian travelling to the North is in fact a history of human tragedies.  In the year 1290 some Florentine merchants were killed by pirates while sailing to Flanders on their way back from Norway.  They were in charge of collecting the money sent from
the Scandinavian dioceses to Rome, and therefore their ship was a highly prized target But we have accounts of the Northern areas that date even futrher
back in time. In the first century A.D. Tacitus wrote about the "fenni" people - a savage group of hunters believed to hav lived in the north calotte. In the 700s A.D. the Langobard Diaconus describes what may be the same tribe - a nomadic hunter tribe in the midst of barbarians.
Foto: Kjell Nilsen, Venezia 2002 (60 Kb)

3. The Zeno brothers
According to a book and a map published in1558, the brothers Antonio og Nicolò Zeno was supposed to have had a long journey to the Nordic oceans around 1400  – all the way to  Svalbard (Spitsbergen) and Greenland. Even though both the story and the map today are regarded as a fraud, the material contains a lot of peculiar information. In Norway, several  places along the coast are mentioned , and between Tromsø and Greenland there are ”Mare et terre incognito”, unknown ocean and land.

From: Helge Wold/I Pietro Querinis fotefar (67 Kb)

4. Piero Querini
In the winter 1432 Piero Querini (1402-1448) landed on the shores of the island of Røst in the Lofoten Islands.  This time the Ocean had been responsible for the tragedy in which most of the Venetian merchant's companions had lost their lives.  The survivors of the shipwreck stayed on the island for several months, leaving the first written report ever of a direct contact between Italians and Scandinavians.
The Captain, a Venetian nobleman called Piero Querini, wrote down an account of the journey, as did the Florentine Antonio di Corrado.  They based their writings on the accounts given by the two officers, Cristoforo Fioravante and Niccolo di Michiele. The shipwreck had a large impact on the history of the north of Norway and Norway as a whole.
Several books have been written, and four authors have written novels using the shipwreck and the contact that emerged between the local population and the seamen as the topic. A monumental stone has been placed on the site where the local population believes the seamen came ashore on the small island of Røst.
Following the great discoveries in the 15th and 16th century the interest in travel literature increased substantially, and the market for narratives of this sort grew.  Travel books allowed the readers to enter strange and exotic worlds.From: Helge Wold/I Pietro Querinis fotefar (44 Kb)

The unveiling of the Querini- monument at Sandøya, july 1932.

2. The Langobard Paulus Diaconus was a writer of history as well as a monk, and in “Historia Langobardorum” he gives us the following description of life in the North: “the cold northern climate favours the procreative powers of man to such an extent that emigration is the only option”.   The Langobards come from “the island known as “Scandinavia”.   In “Historia Langobardum” we’re treated to many peculiar pieces of information.  Take cross-country skiing, for example:  “They chase savage beasts at full speed with bent pieces of wood which have been skilfully processed in the shape of a bow”, or the tide, which is explained as:  “A mouth of water that two times a day devour the currents only to belch them forth again”. Norwegian historians have also taken an interest in the Langobards, and according to Hans Lindkjølen, this mouth of water may in fact be the Saltstraumen in Nordland. These were  travellers - going in the opposite direction - from the north of Norway to Italy, although their journey lastede a few centuries. Saltstraumen, drawing from 1580: origin unknown (128 Kb)

Over: Drawing of Saltstraumen from 1580. Under: Saltstraumen today

From: Hein B. Bjerck/Spor ved Saltstraumen gjennom 10000 år (59 Kb)

5. The Scandinavian North
did not appeal to Italians for a long time. Their culture was, until the taking over of romanticism, a typical expression of Mediterranean centrism, if one can say so. The old Hippocratic theory, which bound the virtues and nature of Man to the climate in which he inhabited, gave ground for a general prejudice: the North was too cold, too "barbarian", too uncivilized, too wild in its powerful nature, to please the Man of the South.  The attitude of the Italians had been forged upon old convictions, such as the one expressed by Ezechiel in the Old Testament: "ab Aquilone pandetur omne malum".  The evil of which the prophet speaks is of course symbolic, but the Romans before, and the medieval man later, had good reason to fear those iron-clad warriors who had come from unknown lands to their country . The mystery of the unknown is the major reason for fear, but it is also what drives a man to explore and to seek "virtute e conoscenza", to use the words of Dante when he described the greatest explorer of Antiquity, Odysseus.  This desire to cross the borders of the world, as it was known to western culture, is the result of the new man born in the Renaissance period.  This renewed attitude toward geography and ethnography is clearly seen in the cartographical representation of the North

6. From the symbolic medieval maps representing Earth in the shape of the body of Christ, having at its centre Jerusalem, geographical culture crossed to the portolans, the sea-charts drawn by Pisan, Genoese, Venetian and Catalan cartographers with the aim of indicating the possible sea routes of the time. None of these extended beyond the North Sea, therefore the Baltic does not appear in early portolans, but the idea of representing reality and no longer fantasy or legends gave birth to the great season of Renaissance cartography.
Ancient world map with Jerusalem as center, origin unknown (49 Kb)         Li Regni di Svezia, Danimarca e Norvegia - Venezia 1781, preffo Antonio Zatta (160 Kb)
7. Carta Marina
The most well-known map of Scandinavia from this period is the Carta Marina, published in Venice by the Swedish clergyman Olaus Magnus in 1539. Although Fennoscandia, and even the far North of it, is well represented, the Northern Ocean is still the mysterious liquid element that had inspired the legends narrated by Brendan, Arab mariners, and all those sailors and fishermen who had been caught by the fury of those troubled waters. Olaus Magnus filled those empty spaces with whales, killer whales, gigantic sea serpents, the monstrous Kraken, all of which became very popular in the reports given by foreign travellers.
Olaus Magnus: Carta Marina, anno 1539(75 Kb) 8. Torquato Tasso
The great Italian renaissance poet, Torquato Tasso, wrote a tragedy with a Nordic theme called "Il re Torrismondo", publ. 1587. Torrismondo is the Italian version of "King Tormund", and the sources of "King Tormund" were Saxos' mediaeval chronicle "Historia Danica" and Olaus Magnus' "Historia de gentibus septentrionibus". I would like to read an extract from the author's dedication to the Duke of Mantova and Monferrato, Don Vincenzo Gonzaga:
"And may God dispel any misfortune from your house, chase away any storm, every cloud, any mist, any shadow of deceptive happiness or random feelings of joy, and spread them not only to the land of the Goths, or to Norway, or to Sweden, but amongst the inhabitants of the outermost Bjarmland, and amongst the monsters and savage beasts and creatures of the dark who inhabit this ghastly place, where darkness and the eternal night devour six months of the year".
9. Francesco Negri
But Olaus Magnus, together with his brother Johannes had finally opened the book of Nature at the page "North". To read this, until then, unknown page became the goal of Francesco Negri (1623-1698). In 1663 he visited Norway and the Tornio Valley, continuing up north, to the North Cape. Francesco Negri was a priest from Ravenna. Why he made this long and dangerous journey is generally explained by this new spirit of adventure and desire for knowledge which after Galileo Galilei blew as a strong wind in the Italian cultural life.
Today a new theory has been proposed by Anu Raunio, a young Finnish researcher: Negri was not only after the mysteries of that book which Olaus had disclosed to him, but he was establishing relations to re-introduce Catholicism in those remote areas. The spirit of Counter Reformation was still strong at his time, and this could very possibly have been the real reason for his travel.

Francesco Negri was born in 1623 and belonged to a respected and wealthy family. He had studied to become a priest, but soon became interested in nature science and geography. In 1663 he travelled to Stockholm to the Swedish part of the North Calotte. After having spent a year in Sweden, he left for Copenhagen where he continued on to Norway, engaging in an adventurous journey to the northernmost part of Norway. After a strenuous journey he finally reached the North Cape.

 Viaggio settentrinale Franceso Negri (1623-1698) Padova 1700,
He wrote about his experiences in the form of eight letters, which were published after his death. After his return from the North Cape Francesco Negri had played the important role of informer to Italian culture about those distant regions. He did, for instance, write letters to Johannes Scheffer, a professor at Uppsala, and passed on his information about Lapland to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III, and to his secretary and librarian, Antonio Magliabechi. He corresponded with Count Lorenzo Magalotti, who himself had been to Stockholm, and presented some of the wonders he had brought from Lapland to the Florentine Academicians.
Lapland now begins its long trip through the Italian exoticism. An unknown land in the 17th century even to Scandinavians, the land of the Lapps had at an early stage represented the alter orbis of human geography. In the 11th century, Adam of Bremen had drawn a clear line of separation between the civilized and the uncivilized world, and the border passed just south of Lapland.
Benvenuto Cagli ca. 1920 (49 Kb)

10. Giuseppe Acerbi
It was the dream of the "bon sauvage" to reopen the difficult itinerary to the North Calotte. The Sami, once despised, depicted as a wild man, not very different from the beast he hunted on those incredible wooden things called "skis", became the symbol of the virtues the Europeans had lost in the sweet towns of the Continent. But this was the imagination of the philosophers. In reality, those travellers who approached the North Calotte in the 18th century, some of them for scientific reasons, others for pure spirit of adventure, continued to look at the Sami as the lowest representative of the European population, if they were Europeans at all. Their physical appearance, so different from the Scandinavian, had already made people in the Middle Ages believe that they were the counterparts of the African Pygmies. Ethnographers, and even common travellers, took the habit of measuring them, or asked them to strip naked to see if it was true that they had no hair on their body, and filled their rucksacks with their skulls and holy drums.
Giuseppe Acerbi 1773-1846, (9 Kb)  So did Giuseppe Acerbi (1773-1846), who enjoyed a great popularity in the field of travelling to the far north of Scandinavia. Acerbi made his journey in the years 1798 and 1799. The accounts of his travels were published in many different languages, and to this day his accounts are keenly debated. Giuseppe Acerbi was a wealthy Italian who had studied law. Acerbi described the thrill of reaching the end of his journey in the following manner: "We took great pride in our victory. We were the bystanders of our own audaciousness, and as we set foot on this land where no man had set foot before (!), we felt not like mere humans, but like creators". His book, published in London in 1802, was a good example of the Italian way of looking at the Northern regions of Fennoscandia. Acerbi admires the Norwegians and the Finns. He praises their honesty, purity, their spontaneity. But he did not feel the same about the Sami. They are filthy, unreliable, lazy, cowards. But this is the picture he mainly gave of them in his diary on the trip from Tornio to the North Cape. Later, travelling in Finnmark and further south, he was to better understand the conditions of the Sami, who suffered during the brutal colonization process.
Today, a website about Acerbi and his travels through Finland is being created. The objective is to give tourists - Italian tourists in particular - the opportunity to follow in Acerbi's footsteps, and make a travel through history from Uleåborg to the North Cape. In addition, we are aware of the fact that Italy and Finland has hosted several symposiums on Acerbi, and we are also familiar with the annual Acerbi Literature Award which is held in Castel Goffredo.

Voyage au Cap-Nord, Acerbi, Paris 1804, (15 Kb) 11. When the Napoleonic wave had passed over an exhausted Europe, travelling flourished once again. The idea of the Grand Tour extended its itineraries, for a few adventurous young aristocrats, even to Lapland. Noble men as Paolo Arconati Visconti, or the Knight of Malta Statella, or Carlo Vidua, reached Tornio and went further up the Tornio Valley. This area had become so popular, that even the capital of Finland, Åbo, and later Helsingfors, were not so appealing for an Italian.
Lappish exoticism had become the reason for visiting those still remote areas. But it is not only the curiosity of a tourist that motivates the Italian traveller. Science wants its share, and ethnographers such as the Florentine Stephen Sommier (1848-1922) or Paolo Mantegazza (1831-1910) are again measuring the Lapps, questioning the Finnish peasants, collecting items of a civilization long forgotten.
In 1879 and 1885 Stefano Sommier made two excursions to the North Calotte. He wrote two travel accounts, "Viaggio in Norvegia ed Lapponia", in Tornio in 1881, and "Prima ascensione invernale al Capo Nord e ritorno attraverso la Lapponia e la Finlandia", in Rome in 1886. He has also given lectures and written articles about his travels.

12. Paolo Mantegazza

On his first excursion he was accompanied by Paolo Mantegazza. Mantegazza was a professor of anthropology and physiology and has published the travel book "Un viaggio in Lapponia coll'amico Stephen Sommier". One result of Mantegazza's journey is that the plant called cow parsnip has been given the Latin name Heracleum mantegazzianum Sommier & Lévier.

Heracleum Mantegazzianum, (78 Kb)            Nordkapp - painting by A.F.Skjøldebrand from 1799 (27 Kb)

13. The North Cape and The Svalbard islands

At the end of the 19th century the Arctic "fever" also spreads to Italy. Giacomo Bove (1852-1887) accompanies Nordenskiöld in 1878 on the Vega expedition. Umberto Cagni (1863-1932) establishes in 1899 the record for the time of the highest latitude ever reached in the Arctic; in that year Luigi di Savoia, Duke of Abruzzi (1873-1934), launches a complex expedition to the Svalbards and further north. The Svalbard islands become familiar to Italian schoolboys, who point on the map to the place where in 1928 Umberto Nobile (1885-1978) and his companions are living the tragedy of the "red tent".

Narvik 1940, Photographer: Einar Hoel, photo belongs to: Nordland Røde Kors krigsminnemuseum, Narvik (24 Kb)14. World war two
Fascism was certainly behind this desire to bring the Italian flag as far north as possible, but a more general interest in the North Calotte had arisen already before the War, when tourist cruises had been arranged to take rich bourgeois and nobles as close to the arctic ice as possible. The North Cape becomes the goal for this predecessor of mass tourism. A few hours on the bare rock, pictures taken of a proud couple on their honeymoon at the extreme rampart of Europe, became very popular. One traveller even writes in her printed account that she has met a fellow from Naples who, dressed as a Lapp, was selling souvenirs. Tourism had taken over; the North Calotte became the last wilderness of Europe, just outside the door.
Then came the Second World War. Northern Norway, Lapland, North Karelia, became the theatre of the new European tragedy. Indro Montanelli, Curzio Malaparte, Mario Appelius fill the leading Italian newspapers with their stories about Finnish and Norwegian bravery. The landscape is not idyllic anymore with the tundra, but has become the backstage of a cruel battle. In the silent Arctic night, a Finn cuts the throat of a sleeping Russian. This was one of the famous covers that the Domenica del Corriere published during the Finnish winter war.

15. "Verso l'estrema Thule"
Times change, and even tragedies pass away. In the years following the war, both the Vespa and the Fiat have given the Italians the opportunity to travel - even as far as the North Cape.
Early next year "Verso l'estrema Thule" will be published. This is a bibliography of Italian travels in the North Calotte, published by the university library in Tromsø. The book contains about 150 accounts of and from the North Calotte, either written by Italians or published in Italian. This exhibition is, in fact, based largely on the contents of the bibliography. The bibliography is one of the many concrete results that demonstrates how people in the North Calotte have taken action to put culture on the agenda, something which becomes evident with the action plan; "From Ultima Thule to Cyber Calotte 2000 - 2003". These travel accounts are valuable sources, not only with respect to gaining insight into what the travellers experienced and whom they encountered, but also to shed light on how they viewed the inhabitants of the North Calotte. One of the questions the material raises, is whether or not the accounts have had an impact on how we look upon ourselves.
The bibliography has been produced through the group effort of three librarians from the North of Norway, the North of Sweden and the North of Finland, who have cooperated with colleagues in the North Calotte and Rome. Dr Luigi de Anna from the University of Turku (Åbo) in Finland has written the introduction, which this historic overview is based on.

One of the cultural objectives outlined by the council of the North Calotte is:
- to contribute to the awareness and reflection of our own self-understanding.

And this may be attained thanks to the voyagers and their willingness to share their experiences with future generations.

Handwritten manuscript by Antonio di Corrado, from Piero Querinis ship wrecking at Røst 1432, found in Bibliotheca di San Marco at end of 1800 century (179 Kb)

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