One of the most remarkable cities that I’ve visited is Rome, Italy. I was amazed at how many beautiful and impressive sights there are to see, from all different eras in the city’s long history, stretching back over 2000 years. There is the mostly intact Colosseum, which held gladiator battles in the days of ancient Rome. There are countless churches from the renaissance period showcasing a variety of architectural styles. And more recently, there is the visually stunning Fountain of Trevi, completed in 1762, and the Vittoriano monument from the early 20th century.
Because Rome is so ancient, most of the old part of the city is not laid out on a grid. The streets resemble more of a tangled spider web, with roads darting in all different directions. Parks, monuments, and historical sites abound throughout the city, interrupting the path of the roads and making it almost impossible to travel in a straight line. In this way, it’s very different from a city like Washington, DC, which was designed on an orderly grid system with museums and monuments clustered together on the National Mall. Hmm, that could make for an interesting future blog topic…
But for today, let’s look at a couple of maps of Rome. The first one is from 1642, by Matthus Merian, and it shows Rome during the glory days of the Italian Renaissance. East is at the top.
I linked to the highest resolution version of the map because it’s worth zooming in and really checking out all the sites. You can see the Colosseum in the upper middle, with the Roman Forum in the open space underneath. If you move down and left from the Colosseum, you can find a tall column, which is the Trajan Column commemorating the Roman Emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars in the 2nd century A.D. The Column is still there today.
In the bottom left of the above picture is St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, and the Apostolic Palace. This area, which would eventually become the Vatican, is the headquarters of the Catholic Church.
Now let’s look at a map of current-day Rome, which shows a rather similar structure to the previous map, albeit with North at the top:
Can you spot the differences and similarities? There are some additions which weren’t built in 1642, such as the large Vittoriano toward the center of the map and the Fountain of Trevi above it. But the Colosseo (Colosseum) is still in place with the Forum nearby. And on the left-hand side of the river is the familiar Citta del Vaticano, or Vatican City. Today, it is an independent country, the smallest in the world at only 0.17 square miles. How does such a small area function as an independent country, especially when surrounded completely by the city of Rome? And why is it not just part of Italy, anyway?
All good questions, and lucky C.G.P. Grey, who previously explained the anomalies of the US-Canadian border, has a youtube video which shines a light on this issue:
Happy mapping and happy traveling!