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Saturday, October 2, 2021

Reading Rome: online map projects bring the 18th century to the 21st

"Giambattista Nolli's magnificent 1748 map of Rome, a milestone in the art and science of cartography and arguably one of the most accurate, beautiful and celebrated maps of Rome ever created." 

This ode to "La Grande Pianta di Roma 1748," above, is from James Tice of the University of Oregon. More importantly, for all of us missing Rome and anyone who misses 18th-century Rome, it's the introduction to the web site

In collaboration with Dartmouth, Stanford, and Studium Urbis, Tice and his colleagues have created a superb interactive map of both Nolli's Rome and modern Rome. By clicking on the "Layers" at the left of the website, you can add modern buildings or street labels, or even fountains and rioni to your map view. All landmarks (even small ones) have detailed information on the edifice's (if it is one) history and, if missing, what happened to it. 

The website also imports information and views from Giuseppe Vasi, who, in 1763 (he was Nolli's contemporary) published a guidebook for tourists. Dear to the heart of us walkers, Vasi's tourist tome (it complements his "magnum opus" on Rome of the day) breaks the city down into 8 walking itineraries. The website "" gives an outline for those itineraries, along with Vasi's plates and details on the buildings - whether extant or destroyed. You can leaf through Vasi's magnum opus on another site ( or follow the itinerary through's separate Vasi layers, as below.

Above in light green is Vasi's itinerary on Day 3, from Piazza di Spagna to Chiesa e Monastero di S. Lorenzo in Panisperna (in Monti). Part of the explanation of Vasi's plate for the last reads:  [the street angle] "argues for its [the church's] having been there before Via Panisperna was cut through. This is indeed the case: S. Lorenzo was an early Christian church, many times restored and largely redone in the 1570s. The 1551 Bufalini map shows that originally the church was approached by a street coming in from the left and parallel to the church façade. By Nolli's time that street had disappeared."

Vasi's plate at left (and on the website); a tourist photo below of the church and convent today.
Clearly a lot of armchair traveling - of the best kind - is available through this amazing map project.
Once you are 'inside' Nolli's maps, it's hard to stop looking, reading, and layering.

PS - We first learned about this mapping project in a Zoom lecture series sponsored by the American Academy of Rome - during Covid lockdowns. 

1 comment:

Frank Munger said...

Bill and Diane, I discovered Bill's retirement story and your intriguing website while I was searching for the title of Bill's book on mining safety and miner activism - I bought it once after we talked about my research on WVa miners, but it was evidently a casualty of my relocation to New York City in 2001. I retired this past June after nearly fifty years of teaching law, twenty of them at UB. Your story is enormously encouraging, although I can't recapture the twenty years since the career-year you advised. It's been a good ride, and we are still quite active.
We'll be in Tuscany next summer for a period of time. I'm open to longer stays, and we talked about after our last trip.
Your blog/website recorded no comments, but this delightful series of vignettes and comments is worth many (hopefully the website's count is inaccurate).
Nice to have our paths cross again, if at a distance.
Frank Munger