First 'Travel Best-Seller' On India (1502-1508)

  Bharani Dharan
  karma level 1556




Ludivico de Varthema was an Italian adventurer who traveled to the east of the Mediterranean Sea extensively and chronicled his journeys.

In pictures: Itinerary, first 'travel best-seller' on India

A copy of a seminal 16th Century work on India is on display at the National Archives building in Delhi. Organisers say Itinerary - by Italian adventure traveller Ludovico De Varthema - is the first "best-selling" book written on India. (Illustrations: Courtesy Italian Cultural Centre and National Archives of India)

De Varthema toured India extensively from 1502 to 1508. The book was first published in Rome in 1510 and was subsequently reprinted numerous times and in many languages. The photo here shows the book's cover in a 1535 reprint.


This venture became a part his travelogue — Itinerario de Ludouico de Varthema Bolognese (Itinerary of Ludovico de Varthema) — that was published in Rome in 1510.

It is one of the earliest European accounts of India.

The book has come to Delhi for the first time — and currently being displayed at an exhibition titled “Voyages to India of Ludovico de Varthema” at National Archives of India. The exhibition is part of the 12th Italian Language Week in the World.



The book was richly illustrated by the author, who described in minute detail the social practices prevalent in India at the time. This picture shows a Kannada wedding.



De Varthema had no commercial or military interests and he travelled purely for pleasure.



The book became a huge success and was translated into almost 50 languages, including Latin, German, French, Spanish and English. This illustration shows farmers during the sowing season in the Kingdom of Cambay which is in the present-day state of Gujarat.



There are only two original copies of De Varthema's book in the world today, both in Italy - one in Rome and the other in Urbania. This photo shows the ladies of the Kingdom of Cambay washing themselves in a pool.



The copy on display at the National Archives of India is an anastatic edition - a reproduction of the book in its original form - presented to India by Italy. The photo here shows Kannada cattle riders.



De Varthema's account of coastal India is hugely significant as at that time the region had little European presence. This illustration shows "wives of very rich merchants" of the Kingdom of Cambay.



De Varthema painted the King of Cambay in all his splendour here.



Most of the people he would have encountered worshipped multiple gods and godesses. This illustration shows "Malabar pagans called nayres" which historians say are the present-day Nairs of southern India.



This image shows a "Xarafo" - a money-changer - from Cambay. Without the help of such images De Varthema's stories would not have had the same impact. By the time of his death some time before 1517, he had become one of the most successful travel writers since Marco Polo three centuries earlier.




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