A 1,800-year-old map of Rome is interesting enough as it is, but the scope is seriously impressive when it comes to the Forma Urbis Romae. Also known as the Severan Marble Plan, this gargantuan map of Rome, originally made between the years 203-211 AD, measured a whopping 18.10 m x 13 m (or 60 ft x 43 ft). This incredibly expansive facade was carved into 150 marble slabs and then mounted across an entire wall inside Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace) in Rome. Furthermore, preciseness complemented this massive ambit, with the 1:260 scale map representing almost all the floor plans of temples, baths, and insulae (proto-apartments) situated in the central section of the ‘eternal city’. These were accompanied by etchings of the street names, public building landmarks and private residences – with intricate details like columns and staircases even being represented in some cases. In essence, as Stanford University said – “the Severan Marble Plan is a key resource for the study of ancient Rome”.
But unfortunately, by the advent of the late medieval period, most of the map was destroyed – with its bits and pieces being unceremoniously used for proximate building materials and even creating lime. It was only in 1562 AD when a young antiquarian sculptor named Giovanni Antonio Dosio, was able to salvage a few parts of the Forma Urbis Romae. Since then researchers have tried to piece together the huge puzzle of this ancient map. Till now they have only been able to gather around 10-12 percent of the total facade, which equates to around 1,200 broken pieces (of which only 200 pieces can be matched with the modern topography).
But apparently, there is still some hope for a more comprehensive restoration work. Rome Cultural Heritage Superintendency has recently made an encouraging announcement – experts have discovered a new large fragment of the ‘oldest unsolved puzzle’ in archaeology, and it seemingly fits with the existing pieces of the Forma Urbis Romae. This map component in question was originally found in 2014, during refurbishment inside a Vatican building known as Palazzo Maffei Marescotti. The researchers have hypothesized that the piece was possibly hewed off and used as a ‘recycled’ material for the 16th-century structure.
In any case, the map fragment (which completes the word Circus Flaminius) has aided the experts to definitively piece together three separate components of this ancient Roman map. According to the Superintendency –
The fragment relates to plate 31 of the map, which is the present-day area of the Ghetto, one of the monumental areas of the ancient city, dominated by the Circus Flaminius, built in 220 BC to host the Plebeian games, and where a number of important public monuments stood.
If you are interested, the entire plate 31, along with the ‘fitted’ new piece, will be displayed at the Museum of Ara Pacis till March 17th. And lastly, since we brought up the scope of restoration, Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project is already working on creating 3D matching algorithms that could help in ‘virtually’ solving most parts of the ancient Roman map.