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Following in Langdon's footsteps

02 November 2006


AFTER THE film of The Da Vinci Code opens at cinemas tonight (19 May), visitors are expected to descend in their droves on the historical sites that appear in the film.

The book - which has reportedly sold 40 million copies worldwide - has already spawned a lucrative tourist industry, and it is widely expected that the release of the movie, which stars Tom Hanks, Sir Ian McKellen, and Audrey Tatou, will add to the numbers of people inspired to follow the trail.

Film tourism - or "set-jetting" - now makes a significant contribution to Britain's £74-billion visitor economy, says Tom Wright, chief executive of VisitBritain, the official body that promotes Britain as a tourist destination. "We estimate around one in five international visitors are inspired to come to Britian by the images they see in movies or on TV," he says.

"Films offer huge potential for tourism destinations to market themselves to global consumers. The right film can be a giant advert - seen by millions of people - for the unique appeal of a destination."

For anyone who has so far escaped Dan Brown's bestseller, the book weaves a fanciful patchwork of Christian history, cryptography, and art into a fast-paced thriller based around the mythology of the Holy Grail. The plot opens with a murder in the Louvre in Paris, and continues with a race through France, London, and Scotland, as the main characters, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, set out to uncover the explosive secret left behind by the victim.

In expectation of the film's effect on tourism, VisitBritain is working in partnership with the Scottish tourist board, VisitScotland, the French tourist office, Maison de la France, Eurostar, and Sony Pictures to exploit the marketing potential of the "grail trail".

The plan is to promote the film's locations across the world, by providing in-depth visitor information about London, Paris, and Edinburgh, behind-the-scenes "secrets" from the key destinations, a movie map, movie trailers, and cast information. A number of tour operators, including Novotel hotels and Gray Line tours (which already offers Da Vinci Code walking tours in the three cities), are offering Da Vinci Code packages in all shapes and sizes.

"Given the worldwide popularity of The Da Vinci Code, this is a fantastic opportunity to draw attention to all that Britain offers its visitors," says Mr Wright. It is not the first time that VisitBritain has promoted film tourism: the organisation has a dedicated film-tourism office in Los Angeles, and has worked with studios on similar promotions associated with films such as Johnny English and the Harry Potter series.

NOT EVERYONE is quite so enthusiastic, however. Leaving aside the noisy objections about the theological and historical inaccuracies of the novel, many people object to the author's claim in the preface that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate" , since even the quickest visit to the sites shows otherwise.

In the book, for example, there is a dramatic shoot-out in what the author calls the crypt of the Temple Church ( www.templechurch.com) - but the church has no crypt. Dan Brown then has two of the characters fleeing for their lives via the tube from Temple station, although their next destination is King's College Library ( www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/iss/library), just a few hundred yards down the Strand.

Similarly, the Rosslyn Chapel ( www.rosslynchapel.org.uk) in Scotland is described as following the exact architectural blueprint of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, when it was built in contemporary style and mirrors St Giles's Cathedral, Edinburgh. Nor is there (as the book claims) a Star of David engraved on the chapel floor.

In Paris, a weary notice in the Church of Saint-Sulpice (where Brown has a nun battered to death with a candlestick) reads: "Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, [the line in the floor] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed in this place. It was never called a Rose Line. It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Observatory. . . Please also note that the letters P and S in the small round windows at both ends of the transept refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, and not an imaginary Priory of Sion."

The authorities at the Musée du Louvre ( www.louvre.fr) are equally dismissive of the book and its implications (and like Saint-Sulpice and Westminster Abbey refused permission for filming). A spokeswoman, Agnes Basset, admits that figures for 2005 showed record visitor numbers (7.5 million) to the gallery, but attributes this to the "enriched event-programming in 2005", new late-night opening on Fridays, and additional floor space rather than any Da Vinci Code effect. 

One French tour guide, Jean-Manuel Traimond, who works for Escape Tours, is so infuriated by the book ("Brown invents bridges that do not exist. He puts trees where there are no trees") that he has called his tours "The Da Vinci Con" .

But for every objector there are at least half a dozen operators offering walking tours at €110 a head around the city starting from the Hotel Ritz (www. ritzparis.com), for the simple reason that Robert Langdon stays there when he arrives in Paris), and guided visits to see the Mona Lisa and the Madonna of the Rocks in the Louvre.

At the top end of the market, you can stay in the 17th-century Château de Villette ( www.frenchvacation.com ) - home of eccentric art historian Sir Leigh Teabing, where Robert and Sophie learn the true identity of the Holy Grail - for six nights, have lunch at the Ritz, join a group discussion on the book, and take in all the key Parisian sites, for a mere €3900-4300 per person.

CLOSER TO home, you can visit Rosslyn Chapel, for a more modest £7, in the village of Roslin, a few miles south of Edinburgh. The Chapel - the scene of the book's dénouement - was founded in 1446 by Sir William Sinclair, and has strong links with the Knights Templar and Scottish freemasonry. Stuart Beattie, director of Rosslyn Chapel, says there has been a marked rise in visitors since the publication of the book.

"In 2003, we had 38,000 visitors. We estimated that we would have 45,000 visitors the next year; then The Da Vinci Code came out and we had 68,000. Last year, we had 117,000 visitors. This year, with the film, we are expecting 145,000."

He says that the huge increase is a mixed blessing. "Footfall is important because it allows us to do things in terms of conservation; but too much footfall means the visitor experience can be disappointing. We are moving to timed tours so that we can manage our visitors more professionally."

He was happy to allow filming at Rosslyn, and found the crew "hugely slick and professional". As far as the content is concerned, he says: "The book is fictional. This is Hollywood, and you just have to grow a thicker skin."

Westminster Abbey ( www.westminster-abbey.org) took a different view, and turned down the request for filming. Lincoln Cathedral ( www.lincolncathedral.com) and Winchester Cathedral ( www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk) were used instead. In a statement, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster said: "Although the book is a fine page-turner, and no doubt the film will be a box-office success, we cannot commend or endorse the contentious and wayward religious and historic suggestions made in the book - nor its views of Christianity and the New Testament. It would therefore have been inappropriate to film scenes from the book here.

"But the book has become an international best-seller, and we will deal practically and positively with the consequences of its - and the film's - popularity for the Abbey."

The Abbey has no special measures in place to deal with any extra visitors because it is "well-used" to dealing with large numbers, says the statement.

"Our primary purpose remains worship. . . We hope that, when fans of the book and film come here, they also have the chance to experience some of the authentic flavour of modern Christianity. We welcome the opportunity to meet them and to engage constructively in the debate that has been started."

The Rough Guide to "The Da Vinci Code": History, Legends, Locations by Michael Haag, Veronica Haag, James McConnachie, Michael Von Haag (Rough Guide, £6.99; 1-84353-713-3); Fodor's Guide to "The Da Vinci Code": On the trail of the bestselling novel (Fodor, £9.99; 1-4000-1730-0); "The Da Vinci Code" and the Secrets of the Temple by Robin Griffith-Jones (Canterbury Press, £4.99; 1-85311-731-5).

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