The greatest historical journeys
Many of the books in Charles Darwin's personal library at Down House contain a wealth of scrawled notes. (Cambridge University Library/PA Wire)
In the olden days of long-haul travel, wild explorers knew nothing of accepted luxuries like phone cards or lightweight backpacks. In an ode to the great travellers of centuries gone by, we created a list of great historical journeys, taken from Lonely Planet’s 1,000 Ultimate Experiences. So pack your compass, shoe your donkey and follow in the footsteps of these famous travellers.
Follow in the fictional footsteps of Phileas Fogg, who travelled around the late-Victorian world in less than three months. Published in 1872, Around the World in 80 Days was Jules Verne’s ode to the technological advancements of the 19th Century. So, limiting the journey to rail, steamer and… elephant… your itinerary is as follows: London to Suez to Bombay to Calcutta to Hong Kong to Yokohama to San Francisco to New York and then back to London. And your time starts… now.
Book a round-the-world airline ticket and create your own adventure; or for inspiration, check out the Jules Verne film festival.
The superior military intelligence of Genghis Khan, born in the 13th Century, was responsible for uniting the tribes of Central Asia to form the formidable Mongol Empire between 1266 and 1368. He made his conquering way from Mongolia to Beijing, eastern China, western China and finally Russia. If you are going to follow this ruthless historical leader, do your best to restrain from slaughtering 30 million people - the estimated number of people who died during the reign of Khan - along the way.
Most foreigners need a visa to enter Mongolia. Check your country’s status. Travel insurance is highly recommended.
Born in Morocco in 1304, Ibn Battutah was a scholar and jurisprudent. At the age of 20 he set off on a pilgrimage to Mecca and kept on travelling for almost 30 years. The published account of his travels, called the Rihla, tells of journeys covering 120,700km, taking in the entire Muslim world and beyond, including 44 modern-day countries.
Lost to the world for centuries, the Rihla was rediscovered in the 1800s and translated into several European languages. Grab yourself a copy, set aside the next 30 years and bon voyage.
Western pilgrims can access Mecca travel advice at www.abhuk.com.
British naturalist Charles Darwin set sail in 1831 on a five-year odyssey aboard the HMS Beagle to observe and document the natural environment. His Journal and Remarks was published in 1839 and is popularly known as “the Voyage of the Beagle”. He travelled to South America, the Galápagos Islands, Tahiti and Australia before heading home again via the Keeling Islands. His notes on biology, geology and anthropology were, in hindsight, the precursors to his world-changing ideas on evolution.
Consider supporting the Beagle Project, which aims to build a replica of HMS Beagle and repeat Darwin’s epic journey.
Alexander the Great
Deemed “Great” by some and “Grotesque” by others, Alexander III was probably the most successful military commander of the ancient world (and modern times to boot). His conquests took him and his armies across 16 countries from Greece to India. Alexander’s period of conquests spanned almost a decade and included the defeat of the Persian Empire and the invasion of India. And he did so on a magic horse, between untangling mythical puzzles, losing friends and lovers, and variously being declared a god and a destroyer.
Start at Pella, where Alexander was born; mosaics from the palace are still intact. The Pella museum has artefacts from local archaeological sites.
Travel was in the blood for Marco Polo (1254 to 1324), whose father was also a well-known explorer. Born in Venice, Marco sailed along the west coast of Greece to Turkey and followed the Silk Road through the Middle East and Central Asia to China. There is some speculation as to the extent of Marco’s travels (which he put at more than 39,000km), with sceptics accusing him of being something of a fibber. Were they just jealous?
Be inspired by two filmmakers who have retraced the whole 40,000km journey. Pick your starting point along Marco’s original route.