The Nolli map, a product of twelve years of copious research by Italian surveyor Giambattista Nolli, is a navigational tool that has truly stood the test of time. Completed over 250 years ago in 1748, the map has now found another breath of life thanks to app developer Martin Koppenhöfer.
Originally engraved into twelve copper plates, Nolli’s map was the most accurate representation of Rome available. While that may not be the case today, the map has retained much of its accuracy over the years thanks to Rome’s preservation, with notable landmarks such as the Colosseum and Pantheon still standing tall.
This veracity can be seen when the map is over satellite imagery of Rome, as can be seen below. Subsequently, viewers can explore how Rome has developed as a city since the map’s creation. Vehicle travel was, of course, not a factor in 1748, though Koppenhöfer commented that “pedestrian navigation is very different… you don’t have to know every street or turn, just go into the right direction.”
“In designing the present edition,” Koppenhöfer continued, “we have spent great care with the aim to be as close to the original as possible regarding the labeling and the structure of the directories. Therefore the app reproduces….[the] notation as provided by Giambattista Nolli in his indices. By selecting an entry you will be led to the corresponding location on the map. You can also browse by tapping on one of the numbers on the map to see what it is about.”
Available on iOS devices, the map is also usable online. Here, courtesy of University of Oregon, the map is accompanied by a series of essays relating to the map. For example, The Walls of Rome by James Tice and Allan Ceen from the university’s Department of Architecture analyze Rome’s city walls from the 8th century B.C. to the 1500s. Using the map, they outline the city perimeter at various dates: “The wall circuits of Rome provide a frame of reference for the city both as a measure of its growth and prosperity and also as a testament to the vicissitudes of a great city, its image of itself, and the practical needs for security during times of travail and even during times of peace,” they say.
Another essay by James Tice, The Forgotten Landscape of Rome: The Disabitato, looks at how Nolli’s map illustrates Rome’s former uninhabited and forgotten places. Other texts look at the cartographic qualities of the map. As for the map itself, “The explanations of the signatures and line styles,” said Koppenhöfer, and “hatches and selected abbreviations are reproduced in their original form. You can access Nolli’s original spelling of the indices, legend, and other signs at the bottom of the English version in Italian language.”