The passport is perhaps the document most loved by globe-trotters. For some of them it’s almost a fetish. Each stamp a memento, each page a story to tell.
But what’s the story behind this booklet full of inky souvenirs? How did people used to travel before the passport was invented?
First of all, we should bear in mind that passports containing pages, valid for an unlimited number of trips and issued by your home country, are a relatively recent concept. Before the 20th century, travellers had to apply for a pass for each single journey, but they could apply for it anywhere in the world. More or less.
The first historical mention of a travel document is in the Bible. The Book of Nehemiah talks about a Persian man who, while travelling to Judea for King Artaxerxes I of Persia, carried with him a letter asking “the governors beyond the river” to guarantee passage to the official.
Marco Polo also held a document given to him by the Mongolian leader Kublai Khan. It was a very precious document made of two little golden boards on which there was an inscription that guaranteed the Venetian explorer’s safety during his travels.
The passport as an identification document was invented by Henry V in the 15th century. He allowed his subjects to obtain an identification paper (the other pages were introduced several centuries later) that would give them the possibility of proving their identity outside England.
Did you know…?
Some passports contain “hidden messages” which are only visible if you expose them to UV light. The Norwegian passport reveals a beautiful aurora borealis, whereas Canadian passports issued after 2013 contain national symbols such as maple leaves, which magically appear on page 36, or the renowned Niagara Falls between pages 20 and 21.