The Forma Urbis Romae (“Shape of the City of Rome”) is comprised of 46 sheets that cumulatively measure a daunting 17 x 24 feet—the size of a two-car garage! Developed by Rodolfo Lanciani around 1901, the map—now outdated in certain respects—still conveys more comprehensive and detailed information about the architecture of Rome than any other image of its kind and it remains a standard reference in archaeology, urban studies, art history, and architecture. It distinguishes buildings’ historical epochs by color: royal and republican Rome are depicted in maroon, imperial and late antique buildings in black, medieval and early modern in red, while the modern city is blue. The map distills Lanciani’s extensive knowledge into a single image of the city’s evolution. Both its merits and shortcomings warrant our team’s effort to digitally remaster this milestone of cartography, which like a portrait of a person, reveals otherwise invisible truths about Rome and its buildings.
To redress the cumbersome size and disjointed, multi-sheet nature of the original, we will present it in a single, zoomable image, with layers—based on building typology and epoch—that can be toggled on or off and that can be searched and queried. Moreover, for several years now, we have been georectifying our digital re-edition to align it with the most precise surveys of the city and with our existing cartographic assets. Finally, to address the outdated nature of the original, we will offer an updated map of Rome’s antiquities courtesy of colleagues at Rome’s Università La Sapienza.
For a preview of our work, click here. Note, however, that this proof of concept (1) has yet to be fully georectified; (2) still lacks proof-reading and spelling verification; (3) does not include the updated map of antiquities; and (4) is merely a vector tiled image, rather than the full-scale vectorized view.
Of great interest is the fact that Lanciani’s map is also replete with references to sources including Classical texts, thousands of Latin inscriptions, hundreds of archeological excavations, as well as street names. All these textual references, once available only in the most furnished of libraries, are now more easily consultable in their full form online. In a second phase of the project, we will enrich our map with hyperlinks to the encyclopedic, textual sources that Lanciani believed integral to understanding the city through time. And, to build upon our previous digitization of Lanciani’s private archive of drawings, prints, and photographs we will position this treasure trove of historical images onto the remastered map, for which—over a century ago—they provided a robust backbone of evidence.
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