Sunday, 16 February 2014


A lot of people must have regretted visiting Rome during the Jubilee of 1450, including Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who was on a diplomatic mission for the German emperor and describes the events.

Sure, you could get a plenary indulgence that delivered your soul from purgatory if you were repentant and confessed after visiting churches for three days. We hope that indulgence benefited the souls of the 200 pilgrims who were trampled to death when panic broke out on the bridge to Sant’ Angelo. But the survivors must have felt they were already in purgatory. The mills and bakeries could not keep up with the demand to provide the bread needed by so many people. And during Lent more pilgrims arrived so that some people slept in the vineyards because they could find no other shelter. Others couldn’t afford the inflated prices and slept under porticoes or wandered around all night. After that, the number of pilgrims thinned out, but only because the plague broke out, and so many people died that hospitals and churches were full to bursting and the sick dropped to the ground like dogs.

Rome was not the only tourist destination experiencing problems. In 1488, Franceschetto Cibo, who managed the spa in Stigliano, found the conditions challenging. The rooms are disgusting…the air is accursed, the men are like Turks, everything as bad as can be. Every day I have to struggle with swindlers, venomous dogs, lepers, Jews, madmen, and thieves. In spite of the appalling conditions or perhaps because Cibo introduced improvements, business was good. During the month of May he hosted between 100 and 150 daily visitors. I have to receive them all, see to their food, provide what they want and have not brought with them, grass, oats, hay (for their horses and pack animals) -- in short everything. For all this they have to pay me, so I hope to clear more than 400 ducats. So far I have pocketed about 100 ducats.

The manager at a hostel in Venice was apparently not so efficient. One guest reported:
It was completely dilapidated and shored up with timbers to prevent it from collapsing. The rooms were a refuge for rats, the verandah black as soot, the floor tiles wobbly. The walls were spattered and marred by graffiti, a thousand obscenities that travelers have written everywhere. Dinners were disgusting, the table greasier than a butcher’s slab, the tablecloths dirtied with wine and soup, the napkins patched like a fisherman’s sails, the salt-cellars held together with wire and wax. The bedding was no better. The bed sheets soiled, the pillows stinking like pisspots, and the mattresses full of bugs.


Maybe that’s when the idea of staycation first emerged.

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