Some might think that today we will pay attention to the travel essential – a world-wide accepted credit card. But no, we will not talk about the power of a Visa card, but the document which enables the entry into a certain country, along with the duration and terms of stay.
The concept of a visa as a travel document, has been around since biblical times. With the earliest mention appearing in the Book of Nehemiah, where around 450BC, a prophet is granted letters from king Artaxerxes requesting the governors of the lands beyond the Euphrates to grant him safe passage to Judah.
On continental Europe, written records for travel papers which allowed free pass though certain territories are available from circa 14th century when in Medieval Europe such documents were issued by some local authorities, listing the territories the document holder was permitted to pass through.
And it was in the 15th century that the first true passport was born at the behest of King Henry V of England. The document was designed to identify its holder as a subject of the King and grant him passage at the city walls’ checks. In fact etymologically, the term passport stems from the word “porte”, the main gate in city walls and from there the name of the document enabling its holder to pass through the gate.
At that time, travel documents could be issued by the king to anyone, whether they were English or not (with the difference that while foreign nationals could get theirs free of charge, the English subjects had to pay), but there were also certain free-trading zones which did not require a visa, such were all the open trading points as most sea ports.
The word visa, firstly entered the English vocabulary as a direct borrowing from French, as visé, from the verb viser “to examine.” With the first written record evidencing the price one had to pay to obtain an Italy travel visa from the English Council in 1842. E. Lawes Scamper through Italy & Tyrol: “It became necessary to obtain the visé of the English Consul, who demands a fee of five francs and six sous.”
It took several years the Italian loanword to get its Anglicised spelling of visa, as a written record from 1859 confirms. The life and remains of Douglas Jerrold: “On going to the Austrian Consul in London for the visa of my father’s passport.”
According to the World Tourism Organization, the last year saw the lowest number of tourists who required a visa before travelling.