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.
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.
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 were
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
Over: Drawing of Saltstraumen from 1580. Under: Saltstraumen today
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
|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.
|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
||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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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Pages last updated: 19.10.04