It is in our nature to look at the horizon and wonder what is beyond it. Most of us at some stage would have succumbed to the curiosity and travelled to see what there was to see. Whether it was travelling to another island, another continent or another hemisphere, we are natural wanderers and like to see and experience what the world has to offer. That is, after all, how we as a species populated the entire globe.
We also like the memories and mementoes of where we have been, sending postcards to friends and family to keep them up-to-date with our travels, and if they are lucky, bringing them back exotic and interesting gifts. And of course, we collect items for ourselves to remember our wanderlust.
Mr M J Archibald of Castlecliff was one such wanderer who collected a range of souvenir books, largely from Europe, and donated them to the Museum in 1966. Many of the books date to World War I and are from locations in France. They could well have been collected while he was on Active Service or shortly afterward.
One is titled Versailles: Photographies en Coleurs and features coloured lithographic prints of the Palace of Versailles grounds, buildings and some of the more spectacular rooms. Another book, A Day at Versailles, serves as a thorough illustrated guide and includes drawings, photographs and maps of the building and surrounds.
Versailles had been an established village since the 11th century. The palace had humble beginnings as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIII in 1624. Eight years later he expanded the property and the lodge, and the enlargements were continued by his son King Louis XIV who eventually moved the court there. Four more building campaigns took place between 1644 and 1710 in which the palace was extended and lavishly decorated, and the grounds richly landscaped.
Smaller-scale alterations were carried out by Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI until the French Revolution put a stop to work in 1789. The Royal Family were made to leave the Palace of Versailles and move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. After King Louis XVI was arrested, Versailles was sealed, much of the furnishings sold, and the building ear-marked as a museum. Since then it has served alternately as a museum and imperial palace. It remains a popular tourist attraction and is still home to major political functions.
But not all the souvenir books show the lush side of French architecture and design. Another book titled Arras Historique shows the devastation dealt to the French during World War I. Arras was located about 10 kilometres from the front line of the war, and due to this proximity, saw a lot of action and sustained a lot of damage. Arras was tunnelled, barracked and burned so much that by the end of the war three-quarters of the town had to be rebuilt, and this book is a monument to the damage that was done. The souvenir book starts with a photograph of the large and impressive L’Hôtel de Ville (the town hall) and the proceeding pages are filled with images of the damage down to the town, destroyed buildings and shattered roads, and illustrates the extent of structural devastation the war caused.