Inventing the Beach: The Unnatural History of a Natural Place - Deepstash

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The beach was first a place of misfortune

The beach was first a place of misfortune

Millions of people like to flock to the beach in the summer, taking advantage of the warm weather and splashing in the waves.

But it was not always this way. Up until the 18th century, the beach created fear and anxiety. The coast was thought of as dangerous - it was where shipwrecks and natural disasters occurred. In classical mythology, a prominent theme was the wrath of the ocean. The beach was seen as a place of misfortune, where you found pirates and bandits, the Black Death and smallpox.


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How the beach transformed to a vacation destination

How the beach transformed to a vacation destination

The modern acceptance of the beach for recreation and retreat came with the rise of the urban, industrial society.

Around the mid-18th century, European elites started to promote the seaside as a place to get fresh air, exercise and sea bathing. Doctors prescribed splashing in the ocean for conditions such as melancholy, rickets, leprosy, gout, impotence, tubercular infections, menstrual problems and hysteria.

The first seaside resort opened in Scarborough on England's eastern shore. Soon other coastal communities followed.


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A destination for the middle-class

A destination for the middle-class

By the 1840s, the beach had a new meaning to Europeans. It became a sought after place of human consumption and an escape from the city.

The rise of trains meant that travel became affordable. Middle-class families came to the shore in their droves. Now the beach meant health and pleasure. Throughout the 1800s, the popularity of the seaside resort made its way across Europe.


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Consequences of sea-side destinations

Europe's 19th-century beaches started to change as societies took to them. It meant the end of ordinary life in a traditional fishing community.

It happened in phases: Where the seashore was first a source of food and where journeys began and ended, it became a sight of amusement and recreation. The beach was popularised as a non-place and an escape from modernity. But the consequences for the environment have been disastrous.


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A global crisis

Today, one-half of the world's people live within 60 kilometres of an ocean. Figures are expected to rise. About 75 - 90 percent of the world's natural sand beaches are disappearing due to rising sea levels and massive erosion caused by human development.

Coasts are highly vulnerable habitats and perhaps one that might soon disappear.


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