October 22, 2005

An ancient map of Rome that's surprisingly up to date

In 1748, architect and surveyor Giambattista Nolli completed a map of his hometown. The Pianta Grande di Roma ("Great Plan of Rome") was built from 12 minutely detailed copper plates, covered six by seven feet in its assembled state, and was so accurate that it continued to be used as the basis for government maps of the city until the 1970s. In 2005, a team at the University of Oregon brought the map online in order to "create and implement an innovative and highly interactive website and teaching tool for the study of the city of Rome." It may be a wordy mission statement, but the University of Oregon team certainly met its goals - The Interactive Nolli Map Website offers a good deal more than just a new look at an old map.
It also reveals that (a) the layout of the center of Rome has remained remarkably stable over the last 250 years, and (b) that Giambattista Nolli was a spectacularly accurate mapmaker. It's astounding to this layman that someone bound to Earth's surface could so precisely chart the streets and structures of the city, but shifting the opacity of the satellite layer to move to and from the Nolli Map demonstrates a stunning degree of correlation. Chances are that this simple act of comparing virtually identical 'before and after' images will occupy the majority of your visit here.

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