The recent post Aquae Urbis Romae discussed the Waters of Rome project by Katherine Rinne.  As mentioned, the map referenced most heavily in her work is the 1551 Bufalini map, which shows conceptual topography and figure ground relationship. Like anything, once you dive into the maps of a particular area, especially one with the history, you can quickly fall down the rabbit hole.  So dive in.

A great article from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Antonio Tempesta’s View of Rome: Portraying the Baroque Splendor of the Eternal City links to a number of maps that were created as part of a 2012 Bernini show.  Chronologically, this Nicolas Beatrizet engraving from 1557 is around the same time frame as the Bufalini map, but simplified, with some interesting graphic style and axonometric illustrations:

A more aerial version of this perspective from the west in 1590 is found in the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae: View of Modern Rome from the West by Giovanni Ambrogio Brambilla.

The map perspective ‘Plan of the City of Rome’ from Antonio Tempesta is from 1645 but was first printed in 1593 around the same time as the Brambilla map, bust showing the view from the northwest.

The maps as a whole is broken into twelve tiles, so zooming in on an individual view shows the richness of the illustration.

Taking a similar view from the Northwest as the Tempesta map, Matthuas Merian’s 1642 Topographia Germaniae printed a color version, showing the view in 1641, and definitely highlights how the use of color can change the nature of a map.

Coming 200 years after Bufalini, the (argubly) most famous map of Rome is one of my favorites, the 1748 Map ‘Grande Pianta‘ by Giambattista Nolli (more commonly known as the Nolli map).  This work of art is infamous for its detail and being the precursor of the expanded ‘figure-ground’ diagram many of us use today.

Nolli Map – via

A set of high-resolution tiles from UC Berkeley allows for zooming in to the beauty of the map, the gradations and the figure-ground representation.

The idea of the interior public spaces as ‘void’ on the map is worth a close-up, as you can see above a bit, but it’s easier to read here, where you can see the plaza spaces (bottom of Piazza Navona on the upper left) versus the interior spaces such as the circular Pantheon and the structure of local churches:

And I love the way some of the gardens are represented, which gives a somewhat different feel from plaza spaces – sort of creating a spatial hierarchy and network of green spaces.

After searching, I found the term for the illustrative border, not sure if that’s the cartographic term, but the veduta ‘italian for view’ is typically a cityscape.  The one the Nolli map illustration was done by Stefano Pozzi.

There are some other high resolution version of this as well, and if you have the means, they can be purchased here, here and here.

For the interactive options, a project of University of Oregon spawned an online interactive version of the Nolli Map“The Nolli website presents the 1748 Nolli Map of Rome as a dynamic, interactive, hands-on tool in both written and graphical form. The map not only provides rich information, but it has the ability to be updated with new data over time to embrace expanding knowledge.”  The viewer is ok, and the thematic symbols are interesting, but resolution is a bit too small, objects aren’t clickable and the interface is somewhat hard to navigate.  

For some other options, there’s an OS app as and another digital version from B-Open Solutions which is a simple georectified copy overlaid on the modern map, allowing for easy zoom, multiple underlays, and opacity shift to see the before and after (which amazingly is not that different – owing to the quality of Nolli’s map-making).  It also includes the ability to click on the original legend for Nolli’s map.


The Nolli map is the touchstone of modern mapping in Rome. In the mid 1800s, for some reason, an almost exact copy of the Nolli map by Paul-Marie Letarouilly. A clickable version of a tourist map based on the 1852 map is the basis for a clickable map of info by Rome Art Lover, which has some good info (lurking within a mid-90s website style).  More interesting is his precursor, which is also based on Nolli, the  1849 Plan de Rome Moderne au tiers de celui de Nolli which acknowledges the original.

Detail shows the homage to the interior public spaces from Nolli, and something about the sparseness of linework (albeit a copy) makes this a beautiful addition to the map library .


As I emerge from the rabbit hole, it reminds me of the rich history of mapping, and the skill of the mapmakers in the absence of modern tools.  While this is not about hidden hydrology per se, the map as a tool, inspiration, and guide is a thread that permeates mine and others interest, and the concept of multiple maps documenting ‘long’ history is impressive.   In that spirit (inspirations and rabbit holes) one must go even farther back, and visit the Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project, which documents the Severan Marble Plan of Rome.  Be forewarned, you can lose yourself in this one.  Some background:

“This enormous map, measuring ca. 18.10 x 13 meters (ca. 60 x 43 feet), was carved between 203-211 CE and covered an entire wall inside the Templum Pacis in Rome. It depicted the groundplan of every architectural feature in the ancient city, from large public monuments to small shops, rooms, and even staircases”

There are available a little over 1000 fragments, many with few marks and some painting the rich historical story of the map.

To give an indication of the immensity of the effort, some more from the site, “The Severan Marble Plan is a key resource for the study of ancient Rome, but only 10-15% of the map survives, broken into 1,186 pieces. For centuries, scholars have tried to match the fragments and reconstruct this great puzzle, but progress is slow–the marble pieces are heavy, unwieldy, and not easily accessible. Now, computer scientists and archaeologists at Stanford are employing digital technologies to try to reconstruct the map.” 


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