Now, what do you need to set out in the footsteps of Antiquity and the Middle Ages in Rome? The basic tool for getting around in the city (but, curiously enough, not a regular part of the guidebooks to Rome until the 19th century) is of course a map. Here, I will make you familiar with the maps I use when reconstructing the medieval routes through the city.
Medieval maps of Rome are few, and not much of a help to navigate from – they usually show an idealized circle formed by the city walls, and small icons of the most important monuments scattered inside. The first map that resembles more modern cartographical visualizations is the Pianta by Leonardo Bufalini från 1551. You can explore it on-line here, and below is a detail of the Tiber island. As you can see, it is possible to trace streets as well as quarters and separate buildings: the theatre of Marcellus, for example, in the upper part of the image.
About a century later, in 1676, Giovanni Battista Falda printed a map of Rome with the buildings sketched in perspective rather than as a bird’s-eye view plan. Every little house, hut and dome is represented, and even trees, for example the alley that was planted along the at the time unexcavated Roman Forum. Below, you can see Falda’s interpretation of the Tiber Island.
But it is not until the mid-18th century that a map appears that is a more or less correct topographical depiction of Rome. The grand work of Giovanni Battista Nolli, the Nuova Topografia di Roma, was printed in 1748. It came in a large and a small version – the Pianta piccolo, which you see below, is embellished with vedute, city views, by none else than Giovanni Battista Piranesi (yes, everyone seems to have been baptized Giovanni Battista when it comes to maps and engravings…). The large Nolli map has been digitalized and can be browsed here.
The wonderful thing about these maps is, that because Rome is a city where almost nothing of the original plan has changed since Antiquity, but rather only been filled out, filled in and built-upon during the centuries, it is, amazingly enough, still possible to use these age-old maps to navigate in the modern city. Nolli is my personal favorite, but also the 17th-century Falda is quite possible for finding your way, if you bear in mind that a few major changes has been done to the cityscape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for example the opening of major thoroughfares such as via Veneto, via dei Fori Imperiali, Viale Trastevere and via della Conciliazione – so better keep a modern tourist map folded in your pocket, too, for these rare emergencies.
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