Using a Baedeker

Book 3, The Shores of Spain, is the first in the series to show my characters traveling across Iberia. And to get the historical details of the travel as correct as I can, I’ve turned to the same book that an American making this trip would have used in 1903…Baedeker’s Handbook for Travelers.

If you’re not familiar with the name “Baedeker” then you probably haven’t read E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, where an entire chapter deals with the heroine’s bafflement after being separated from her Baedeker while in Italy.

Chapter II: In Santa Croce with No Baedeker

Tears of indignation came to Lucy’s eyes partly because Miss Lavish had jilted her, partly because she had taken her Baedeker. How could she find her way home? How could she find her way about in Santa Croce? Her first morning was ruined, and she might never be in Florence again. A few minutes ago she had been all high spirits, talking as a woman of culture, and half persuading herself that she was full of originality. Now she entered the church depressed and humiliated, not even able to remember whether it was built by the Franciscans or the Dominicans.

Or, on a sadder note, you might not know about the Baedeker Blitz.

These little red books provided travelers with all the tiny details they needed to know (and also drove them slavishly to the sights deemed important in any foreign town).
Here’s my 1901 Baedeker for Spain and Portugal.

In the front there’s a handy chart for changing money:

There was a large fold out map of Iberia in the front of the book, but it was the only thing that was damaged when I received it. But inside there are several fold out maps that the user can (probably with a magnifying glass) use to get around the city.

In addition to the city maps, there are a lot of small, special interest maps, like this layout of the Alhambra in Granada:

But the book also has a wealth of info that the traveler needs to know when entering a city: Here we have addresses for sporting venues, bookshops, banks and baths, doctors and apothecaries, the consulates and the insurance people (Lloyds), the English church.

On this page (folded up map of Barcelona to the left) we have all the transportation info, including cab locations and how much a normal fare should be. (Note also the addresses for the Post Offices, Telegraph Offices, and Telephone Offices.)
(And at the bottom of the page, the info on the bullring.)

As a resource, these are invaluable for anyone writing in the period from the late Victorian to Mid-20th century. The amount of detail on travel is very hard to come by otherwise. (Later in the 20th century, it gets easier.)

What’s also interesting is that they tell you what WASN’T important. A visitor to Barcelona today would surely make plans to visit the Sagrada Familia, right? Not back then. Back then it was under construction and not even worth mentioning among the sights of Barcelona at all.
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons). Sagrada Familia c. 1915

So if you’re researching late Victorian or Edwardian travel in the U. S., Canada, Europe, or Russia…this is a good place to start.


7 thoughts on “Using a Baedeker

  1. Everything on the streets has changed, but the streets remain the same. For instance, in the map, there is a military barracks kitty-corner from where I am now. (There was nothing where I am now. My building is only 42 years old. I’ve seen old aerial photos, so I know for sure.) Now there is a bit apartment complex where the barracks was, but it’s for — or at least it originally was — for military families.

    1. That’s interesting. Spain seemed to have a lot of conflict in the 20th century, so I assume taking care of the military would be a priority…

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