There are the Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski, the English actress Liz Taylor and the patron saint of Italy St. Francis. Near them, three bags. The first includes a pan and a case of books. The second a spoon, a wooden bowl and a knapsack. The third 110 suitcases with clothes, cosmetics and every other good thing in God. Riddle: associated the "necks" to the right person. In fact, each type of traveler has a different type of baggage (from the French bagage, a term that indicates the convoy full of equipment following the armies). The evolution of baggage thus allows us to reconstruct the way we used to travel in the past and above all the spirit with which we moved in different eras. In the Middle Ages, for example, the nobles built removable furniture so that they could be transported from one fief to another. In the eighteenth century there was no aristocratic family that did not embark on a journey with coaches full of trunks and hatboxes.
Here's how we packed our bags over the centuries!
The history of the suitcase begins … from the end. One of the oldest trunks discovered in fact should have accompanied, during his last journey, the one in the afterlife, the pharaoh Tutankhamun (14th century BC). "In the tomb of the Egyptian ruler, over 50 boxes and boxes containing fabrics, cosmetics and a variety of everyday objects were found, " explains the writer and explorer historian Paolo Novaresio, curator of the exhibition "The man with a suitcase. Little history of baggage ”. «Since then the trunk has been among the most common luggage. They used Greeks and Romans during their long journeys by sea or by land, loading them on wagons. These were wooden and bronze coffers, often decorated with ivory and precious metals. Being large objects, they were suitable to be packed on merchant ships and were often used also as benches or beds during navigation ". The trunks favored practicality at the expense of elegance. The flat lid and the square shape served just this: to stack them like small containers.
This standard came to the Middle Ages. On Viking ships between the 9th and 15th centuries, the drakkar rowers sat on wooden crates with encoded shapes and sizes and also useful for sleeping on them. Nothing to do with the baggage of the pilgrims who walked the streets of Europe and the Holy Land in that same period. Spirit globetrotters marched with bags reduced to the bone: a bag with spare sandals, a prayer book, a flask made from a pumpkin, a stick and, if the destination was Santiago de Compostela, the shell-pass of pilgrims.
"With the discovery of America, in 1492, the intensification of explorations and the invention of the press that favored the spread of travel guides (the first were written precisely for pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela), travel ideas and baggage suffered a revolution "continues Novaresio.
But it was in the 1700s that baggage became more like what we have in mind today. It was the century of the Grand tour, a formation journey through Europe that was a must for the young aristocrats, especially the English and the Germans. The experience lasted months, even more than eight, during which time food supplies, clothes, books, roll-up beds, passports, letters of credit (a kind of traveler's checks), guides, medicines were brought along.
Between the eighteenth and the nineteenth century also the ocean crossings became almost routine. "Officials, merchants, missionaries or simple adventurers went to the American or Asian colonies for long periods, accompanied by varied and complex equipment. These passengers, the forerunners of the modern tourist, certainly did not travel as the nineteenth-century emigrants would have done, with simple cardboard suitcases. The navigation could last months and their travel kit included the bed, kitchen equipment, huge stocks of food and drink, "explains Novaresio.
The French historian Pierre Chaunu estimated the weight of the baggage of those embarking at the time of the Indies in 8-900 kilos: at least thirty packs of crates, baskets, sacks, barrels, household goods and cages with live animals.
Much more "light" (so to speak) the baggage of those who went overseas as a missionary: the Dominican friar Jean-Baptiste Labat (1663-1738) leaving for the Antilles, left us a rare testimony of the budget then considered indispensable for cross the Atlantic. Excluding provisions, vestments and other “tools of the trade”, the list included among other things “a mattress, a crossbar, a couple of sheets, a blanket, six shirts, as many underpants, twelve handkerchiefs and an equal number of night caps, of pairs of cloth socks and socks, a hat, three pairs of shoes ”. All carried with the usual trunks.
"Until the spread of the aircraft, which imposed weight limits on luggage, the trunks remained the" travel bag "par excellence, " says the expert. "There were different models: there was the" pharmacy trunk ", where quinine (against malaria), officinal plants like the jungle (a laxative), gauzes and pads were kept to face sea or desert crossings. Then there was the library trunk and the trunk-bed. But also trunks designed to be loaded onto hot air balloons or those with internal hangers, drawers or smaller trunks ».
To optimize the spaces, walking sticks were used which, if necessary, became forks, knives and even salt. And if an aristocratic journey in the eighteenth century included at least 30 or 40 trunks crammed in several carriages, in the 1800s the steam transport revolution (trains but also faster ships) favored the birth of a new type of journey: the tourist one.
"In the mid-1800s tourist agencies were born. The first ever saw the light in England: it was Thomas Cook & Son. As a maiden voyage, in 1841, he proposed the Leicester – Loughborough train journey (about twenty kilometers): 570 people took part, with a luggage limit of 90 kg per person ».
The first Italian travel agency started only in 1897. The unified Italy invested enormous resources in the development of a railway network and in the span of twenty years the movements were greatly facilitated. The advent of the locomotive made the journey within everyone's reach, giving rise to mass tourism (or almost). Not without controversy, if it is true that in 1892 a general, Luigi Giannotti, noted in one of his books "an old count of Casale Monferrato found it strange, indeed indecent, that now all arrive together at destination, that is, he is a great first class Count, as the modest second traveler and the poor third devil. He regretted the good old days when he traveled with four horses and two postilions, while he laughed at those who traveled with diligence ". "To make the difference, " says Novaresio, "it was no longer the means of transport, but rather the baggage. It was not by chance that the brand name was born in those years. In 1896 Louis Vuitton launched the first designer trunk. And a few decades later, in 1924, the first loose bag, an anticipation of modern baggage ". But other changes were around the corner.
Between the two world wars a new phenomenon revolutionized the baggage: the success of the automobile. Once the railway network had been completed and upgraded, investments were concentrated on the roads, in part already enhanced by Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century (see Focus History No. 40). Now, however, they were no longer carriages and horses, but cars.
At the end of the Great War, Fiat was the third Italian company: the construction of the Lingotto plant in Turin (1922), which brought together the entire production cycle in a single factory (also importing the assembly line model introduced in the US by Henry Ford), favored the progressive passage of many Italians to the four wheels. And the luggage had to fit.
«The square and flat trunks were designed for trains, they were medium-sized and above all stackable. They soon gave way to smaller suitcases, more easily loaded on cars "continues Novaresio. Thus the term trunk went on to indicate, over the decades, the special compartment of the car dedicated to loading luggage.
"The trips were short. And the objects to bring with them decreased, as did the size of the suitcases »continues the expert. «The experience of the journey became so common that in 1937 the League of Nations (the ancestor of the UN) formalized the terms" tourist "and" tourism "identifying them as synonyms of" those who travel for periods of over 24 hours " ». And in those years the twenty-fourth hour for the businessman debuted.
The requiem for the glorious trunks arrived in the late 1950s, when civilian air transport finally established itself in the US and leather bags, capacious but light, took the place of it.
To tell the truth, ten years later, the invention of the rigid polypropylene suitcase reinvented the trunk. Which in 1988, with the first trolley patented by a former pilot of the American Northwest airlines, Robert Plath, sprouted wheels. The dimensions, however, remained reduced. Also for this reason, perhaps, Liz Taylor was forced to divide her clothes into 110 suitcases. If he had had a more minimalist baggage, based on books like Ryszard Kapuscinski's, one would have been enough. But he could hardly emulate Saint Francis, who was satisfied with the bag.