Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.01.64

Marxiano Melotti, Mediterraneo tra miti e turismo. Per una sociologia del turismo archeologico.   Milano:  CUEM Università degli Studi di Milano, Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichità, 2007.  Pp. 208.  ISBN 978-88-6001-1138.  €15.00.  

Reviewed by Katariina Mustakallio, History and Philosophy, University of Tampere (
Word count: 695 words

Marxiano Melotti's book is an important contribution to discussion concerning a well-known social phenomenon, archaeological tourism, which has been a neglected topic in the research on Antiquity until recently. This volume is aimed at a readership interested in cultural heritage, archaeological tourism, exploitation of archaeological sites like Pompeii, and new virtual technology. Melotti teaches methodology of archaeology and submarine archaeology at the University of Milano, Bicocca.

The book is divided into nine main sections. The author starts by discussing the role of tourism in the ancient world and the themes of identity and otherness ('Mito e viaggi' and 'Tra identità e l'alterità'); then he considers the challenges and threats to submarine tourism especially in Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean world ('Il turismo archeologico subacqueo in Italia'). After that he amplifies his theme by bringing together classical myth, cinema and literature concerning the Mediterranean sea. He takes into account one of his favourite themes, the question of authenticity, especially in reference to virtual technology. More profound anthropological analysis is to be found in the chapter considering the Greek travel writer Pausanias (115-180 AD). This is a section which may interest scholars of the classical world most, but the main theme of the book, the confrontation with the stranger or unknown, is present even here. The remaining two chapters of the book introduce us to the necrophilic approach to Pompeii and the commercial interest in authenticity.

This rich collection of critical and challenging issues regarding cultural and archaeological tourism first arouses confusion in readers' minds. Nevertheless a closer reading helps to highlight the key theme of the volume, namely that the phenomenon of tourism and travelling dates back to the ancient times, not to Pausanias but to Odysseus himself. The main aim of Pausanias was to determine the origins of the legends and see with his own eyes those important and central places in the Mediterranean that belonged to the cultural code of his time.

There is a similar phenomenon visible during the period of the Grand Tour. Travelling was considered an ideal way of studying cultural heritage and as Melotti shows us, it was a way to encounter otherness. There is a very thin line between our current cultural tourism and the Grand Tour. The desire to reach the almost impossible is typical for elite tourism as can be seen when travellers wish to view the empty niches of Bamyan in Afghanistan. However, even the most famous ancient cities, like Rome itself, can create the effect of emptiness in the traveller. In one of the most famous sites, the Forum Romanum, discontinuity and abandonment are clearly visible. As Melotti says, the feeling of discontinuity is often present at archaeological sites. The striving for authenticity, a typical desideratum of western culture, may be the one reason for this. An archaeological site is disconnected because it is a space symbolically closed and separated from the rest of the world, without any continuity in time or space.

The chapters dedicated to submarine archaeological tours open one's eyes to the risks that result from the search for authentic experiences by cultural tourists. There are already many kinds of pseudo-archaeological Disneylands and parks like "an archaeological dig into a lost civilization". This kind of archaeological tourism is, however, much less destructive to heritage resources than that of the overwhelming tourist movement directed towards some UNESCO World Heritage sites. Melotti calls attention to the lessons of the heavily damaged caves of Lascaux and Altamira. In the world of mass tourism it seems that the only way to protect cultural heritage is the new digital technology and virtual tours it offers. At the same time we should be careful not to generalize the experiences of Italy to the whole world. For example in thinly populated countries like those in Scandinavia, cultural tourism is warmly welcomed.

Melotti's book is an inspiring collection of critical articles considering classical heritage from the point of view of sociology and anthropology. This book presents an embarrassment of riches in terms of its scope. Furthermore, it reminds us that even the students and researchers of classical civilization cannot close their eyes to the changes in the actual world.

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