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An ancient map of Rome that's surprisingly up to date

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Once selected, each layer also offers a "Fade" control, which allows visitors to set the opacity of the optional information. The pin-like icons locating fountains are unobtrusive even at full opacity, but depictions of the various gardens completely block large areas of the underlying image. The fade control is most effective when used with a layer holding a satellite image of the city.

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Provided by Space Imaging, Inc., this 1-meter resolution satellite layer nicely brings together the state of mapping technology of the present with that of the past, but it does more than simply serve as a symbolic meeting of eras. It also reveals that (a) the layout of the center of Rome has remained remarkably stable over the last 250 years, and (b) that Giambattista Nolli was a spectacularly accurate mapmaker. It's astounding to this layman that someone bound to Earth's surface could so precisely chart the streets and structures of the city, but shifting the opacity of the satellite layer to move to and from the Nolli Map demonstrates a stunning degree of correlation. Chances are that this simple act of comparing virtually identical 'before and after' images will occupy the majority of your visit here.

After enjoying the visual attractions of the Map Engine, surfers can also turn to a collection of articles which will add some context to the graphic component. Divided into four "Modules" (Natural Features, Architecture, Social Factors, and Cartography), this resource provides brief introductions to such subjects as the history of Rome's city walls, and its "disabitato" (the "uninhabited place" outside the city center). Short and written for the nonexpert, these articles are well worth the read - and will probably send most visitors straight back to the map. One such essay notes that the work's geographic accuracy was "unremarkable" for its time, but claims the surveyor's real achievement was in the unprecedented amount of detailed information he managed to record in the document - including the interior architecture of many buildings, and such minutiae as the locations of open and closed street drains.

Finally, if you feel the need to search for specific features or landmarks, or if you want to identify a numbered annotation on the map, a Gazetteer holds names, basic information, and direct links to the Map Engine for more than 1300 locations recorded by Nolli. A keyword search will return relevant results from the Map Engine and the rest of the site.

Giambattista Nolli died at the age of 55 less than 10 years after the completion of his masterpiece. One can only imagine what his reaction would be to today's satellite mapping techniques, or to the interactive, multilayered form his work has taken in his absence. For this present-day observer, the latter is an impressive achievement, offering entertainment value for the casual visitor, and enough deep content to make it a valuable learning resource. With the amount of traffic it's likely to attract, the "Nolli Map Website" had better be on a robust Web server.

The Interactive Nolli Map Website can be found at