Maps are a most fascinating tool to use when travelling or simply when sightseeing from your own chair. They have been very useful for me when trying to retrace Alexander’s footsteps in a time when our modern roads did not exist and we had to rely on what the landscape had to offer with its rivers, deserts and mountain passes.
Finding our way back in time is particularly difficult when it comes to cities, most of all ancient cities that have been built and rebuilt over and over again. Such a city certainly is
Rome and I find it quite
exciting to learn that the best map of
was created in 1901 by archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani. His map is terribly
detailed since it covers buildings from antiquity up to the 19th
century. It is not surprising that it is huge, 5.20 x Rome 7.30 meters and it has
been published as 46 separate sheets over a period of eight years!
It makes you wonder why such a precious document together with all Lanciani’s sources of documents, photographs, and sketches has been kept behind closed doors at the National Institute of Archaeology and Art History in
. Luckily, times have changed and
the Italian government has made the maps available for research and most of the
material has been digitalized. The Maps of Rome can be consulted by everybody at MappingRome and the other pertaining
documents are freely available
online as well. Rome
It is so clever that Lanciani color coded his maps. He used black for the antique and medieval constructions, red for the sections from before 1871 (unification of
) and blue for the additions made after 1871. It is always a puzzle to even imagine where ancient buildings
stood and the space they occupied as we are walking through today’s Italy or any
other city, meaning that his work is very meaningful. Rome
The idea of creating a full map of
new, of course, but it is quite surprising to learn that such a map on grand
scale existed as early as the third century AD. It was called Forma Urbis Romae – a name Lanciani
kindly reused for his own map – and measured roughly 13x18 meters. Only
fragments of that ancient map have survived, some 1,186 bits and pieces of
It is important to realize that Lanciani lived at the time when
Rome became the capital
of the newly unified .
There was much open and unused space that quickly would be turned into
profitable building projects, much to Lanciani’s dismay as surviving ruins from
the old city would be destroyed in the process. As he witnessed how many of the
newly excavated ruins were exposed, he had a unique opportunity to incorporate
them in his map. Italy
Another great and inspiring mapmaker was Giambattista Nolli, who in 1748 created a map showing
from a bird’s eye perspective.
His work was so meticulous that modern satellite maps still line up with his outlines and basic floor plans. Rome
The digital version of Lanciani’s map is not final. It requires a few corrections and several updates with those ruins that were discovered after his lifetime. Eventually the antique black layer of his map will be broken down to match subsequent historical periods.
As a result, we will be able to enjoy a picture of
as it was and evolved over the centuries to become what we know today! Rome