Grand Tour Europa: Explorers, tourists, refugees, global shoppers, exiles, migrants, stateless persons and other adventurers, what do they have in common?

artistic research

Tourists at the Acropolis, 2016

The Acropolis and its surrounding Archeological Sites,
the heart of Ancient Athens,
is the place where the most essential aspects
of the European identity emerged:
Democracy, Philosophy, Theatre, Sciences, Arts.
It features on the European Union’s list of European Heritage sites
because of the significant role it has
played in the history and culture of Europe.


These words are visible on a sign next to the entrance of the Acropolis. They are written in Greek and English and accompanied by the logo of the European Union and the European Heritage Label. Although you could easily read these words as yet another attempt to glorify heritage as an important witness of the past, it is in fact a way to create a European identity through history. Retroactively Europe is seen as a logical consequence of development and progress, or, in the words of the Heritage Label itself: “European Heritage sites are milestones in the creation of today’s Europe. Spanning from the dawn of civilization to the Europe we see today, these sites celebrate and symbolize European ideals, values, history and integration. Since 2013, these sites have been carefully selected for their symbolic value, the role they have played in European history and activities they offer that bring the European Union and its citizens closer together.”[1] In 1975, the Greek government began a large-scale and controversial project to address the declining condition of the Acropolis.[2] Exceeding many times the estimated budget, the project is still not finished. What began as a project to save the monuments from further decay has become a comprehensive effort to re-create their original appearance.

Tourists at Monastirakiou Square in Athens, the Acropolis at the background, 2016

Evidently the cultural formation of the Acropolis, that Europe claims here as a site of both history and identity, is able to generate a massive movement of people. Tourists from all over the world travel to Athens, with the Acropolis as their main destination: the Acropolis, like other heritage sites, is now absorbed into the logic of the global market. The project of creating a European identity by means of cultural and historical claims goes hand in hand with marketing and city branding. So the question arises, for whom is this European identity created? To whom does it appeal?

Looking into the way Europe deals with questions of identity, citizenship, culture and history in the context of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees had occupied my mind for quite some time. I wondered if the tourist and the heritage site, the refugee and the camp were not both a result of the same paradigm. I also wondered if it would be possible to formulate alternative views to the dominant perspectives on migration in Europe today. Would it be possible to recognize a “culture of exile” beyond the narrative of suffering and displacement? A culture of exile from which social, spatial and political communities can be imagined and experienced beyond the idea of the nation-state?

Advertisement for boat and jet ski rentals, Dikili, 2016

Last September my partner and I decided to make a trip from Izmir (Turkey) to Budapest (Hungary), the so-called ‘Balkan Route,’ in order to see and interpret for ourselves what is happening in Europe. From Izmir our route had taken us to Dikili, a small village on the Turkish coast. The newspapers had written about it. Before the EU-Turkey deal it was said to be an important location from where smugglers organized the refugee crossings to Lesvos. Although everybody in Europe is quite confident that the flow of refugees has stopped with the externalization of the borders, people are still crossing the Aegean Sea, albeit in smaller numbers.

Drawings showing all Sir John Soane’s buildings built between 1808 and 1815, drawn by Joseph Michael Gandy, 1820. Soane was an architect who made a Grand Tour between 1778-1780

Mass tourism can be traced back to the phenomenon of the Grand Tour, a tour along the cultural treasures and cities of Europe. As a completion of their education, upper-class European men, undertook a ‘Grand Tour’ across the European continent. They spent months, sometimes years, touring the continent’s major cities, taking in natural phenomena and observing archeological sites. Especially for artists and architects the Grand Tour was seen as the ultimate learning school. Studying the antique masterpieces was considered an essential part of the artist’s personal development. Through the technological advances of transport and communication, traveling in the 19th century became easier and cheaper. Steamships and railroads shortened the travel times drastically. Tourists took advantage of the improved rail services, such as the famous Orient Express, that led them to places like Budapest, Athens and Istanbul, the remote corners of Europe that appealed to the imagination.[3] Eager to experience the classic Grand Tour destinations, the new tourists were now equipped with travel guides, seeking entertainment and pleasure.

Le Corbusier speaking on the Patris II, CIAM 4, 1933
CIAM members posing at the Acropolis, 1933

On July 29, 1933, a group of architects from eighteen different countries embarked on the cruise ship Patris II in the harbor of Marseille on route to Athens.[4] When, for political reasons, the fourth meeting of CIAM (Congres International d’ Architecture Moderne), could not be held in Moscow as planned, Athens was chosen as the alternative location for the conference. On board of the Patris II the CIAM members presented their research on: ‘the functionalist city.’ The Congress was to be devoted to finalize the ideas of the ‘Minimum Dwelling Unit’ and ‘Rational Site Planning.’ CIAM sought to encompass urban reorganizations that could be implemented worldwide.[5] All the outcomes supported their idea of zoning: separating the city into the distinct functions of dwelling, work, recreation and transportation. During this Grand Cruise on the Mediterranean, architects and urban planners ultimately came to an agreement on what the future of our cities should look like. The results of the Congress were the basis of what Le Corbusier began to call “The Athens Charter,” finally published in 1943.[6] The Charter became widely regarded as a defining moment in Modernist urbanism, and the new standard for post-war city planning.

While the cultural identity of Europe still merges together with the heritage of the Grand Tour the heritage of functionalist urban planning is at least as present in our daily environments. But somehow this heritage is not, or not yet, addressed in our tourist guides. Indeed the grand modernist projects are now commonly identified as banned places –les banlieus– that systematically fall off the tourist map. Although CIAM architects and planners have never acknowledged it, their plans were profoundly intertwined with a prevailing political discourse. Working from their basic principles such as standardization and zoning, modernist urban visions have often been involved in dividing spaces, segregating people and displacing social communities. This became utterly clear in the colonial urban programs, where racial and spatial segregation were implicitly carried out.

4. Crane, Shela. Mediteranean Crossroads, Marseille and Modern Architecture. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2011. p. 1
5. Mumford, Eric. ‘The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928 – 1960’. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000. p. 65
6. Woud, van der, Auke. ‘CIAM Housing Town Planning’. Delft: Delft University Press 1983. p. 72

Le Corbusier, model of PLan Obus for Algiers, 1933-1942

A prominent characteristic of ‘European urban planning’ in the colonial city was the deliberate creation of a dual structure that clearly delineated the separation of Europeans and indigenous people.[7] ‘European’ quarters were built adjacent to ‘native’ towns, but separated by a so-called zone neutre or cordon sanitaire, a strategic green belt that had to protect the colonizers from riots and the spread of local diseases. In his Plan Obus (1933 – 1942) for Algiers, Le Corbusier took the idea of spatial division to an extreme. His concept was based on a large central axis elevated over the casbah, that connected the hillside residential high-rise for Europeans with the administrative center at the seashore. The cordon sanitaire is here transformed into a bridge, preventing any direct contact with the local inhabitants. The bridge would establish a constant “visual supervision over the local population and clearly mark the hierarchical social order onto the urban tissue, with the dominating above, and the dominated below.”[8]

7. Zeynep Çelik, “Cultural Intersections: Re-visioning Architecture and the City in the Twentieth Century,” in
At the End of the Century. One Hundred Years of Architecture, ed. Russell Ferguson. (Los Angeles/New York:
The Museum of Contemporary Art/Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers 1998), 200
8. Zeynep Çelik, “Le Corbusier, Orientalism, Colonialism,” Assemblage, 17 (1992), 69

Carrières Centrales in Casablanca, 1952
An areal view of the Jungle in Calais, including the shipping containers that have been converted in makeshift housing, 2016

Today the rationalist architecture and urban planning strategies of segregation, exclusion, and designing for large numbers are still prevalent. Current reception and housing efforts for refugees, for example, show no serious alternatives. Stripped of their individuality, refugees are reduced to a group of numbers to which a set of standard measures is applicable. As a group they are excluded from our society and rights system, and located in designated areas because they are expected to leave again. Camps and temporary shelters are located far away from the inhabited world and lacking proper connections to public transportation networks. Temporary accommodations are situated in former prisons and military barracks, tents and containers, all places in which freedom of movement is equal to the least possible consumption of space. These places are set aside from our society and exactly because they are set aside, they are less visible and therefore easier to control and oppress.

To me it has become clear that how Europe deals with both tourists and refugees still affirms the structures of colonizer and colonized. While tourists are guided through a secure and visible network of carefully laid out infrastructures that bring them from highlight to highlight, refugees are forced into an invisible and insecure network that brings them from camp to camp. These temporary shelters disappear as quickly as they arise and are not meant to have a history nor a future; they are supposed to be forgotten about. This makes clear that contemporary European notions of cultural heritage and conservation are fully appropriated by institutions that aim to construct a uniform cultural identity. One that is only directed to those who belong to the European territory, its citizens, or those who have the privilege to be invited, the tourists. But if we can culturally identify ourselves with an architecture as extraordinary and alienating as the Acropolis, why can’t we do so with a refugee camp? What if it is not the Acropolis but the camps and border fences that determine the cultural identity of Europe? In order to break down the modern institutions and ways of thinking, which produce both tourist and refugee, we have to surpass a world of inclusion and exclusion. We have to renew the very conditions of “living together” by opening up to a new commonality starting from the experiences of the newcomer. The imagination of the Europe to come no longer starts in Europe, but elsewhere.