We now map mega-regions that extend far beyond the former boundaries of cities, along roads and through suburbs lack clear bounds. These maps reflect the experience of their environments as networks more than sites, to be sure. In tracing the extension of extra-urban areas along distended networks of often uninhabited paved space, the form of such cities seem removed from historical time or erase the familiar palimpsestic relation to space of the well-worn streets and built structures of older cities, or the city as a space for walking, rather than driving or moving on mass transit lines.
For We are less concerned with streets or walking since we’re less concerned with such maps as guides of habitation, and hope to trace guides to the spatial futures of metropoles: such maps’ scope capture the order of lived space, but obscure the individual neighborhoods that once occupied space, or lent them coherence. Maps of ancient Rome, in contrast, excavate a formerly inhabited space, providing images of study to come to terms with the past habitation of the ancient world–an idealized urban space, removed from the present. Indeed, coherence is less a quality of the visual accuracy of the “maps” of Rome from glorious mosaics of cloud-free satellite images, which, while providing a level of spatial comprehensiveness, but beg questions of their coherence or presence, since they offer viewers few cognitive guides, so much as they trumpet their own documentary abilities. Yet they recall the older use of city maps of questions as objects of study, and the value of the map as sites of observation. In the new views of modern cities as Rome, the image of the metropole is super-imposed over the image of the ancient city.
It’s all the more jarring when the ancient city of Rome is mapped as lying at the center of a spatial web of roads, that privileges motion across an undifferentiated uniform space–at a scale that seems to ignore the material presence of the city that has so compulsively been mapped, to reduce it to knowledge, and to excavate its presence. For rather than map the city as a network of monumental arches, public squares, civic buildings, temples and arenas, the presence of what has always been taken as public spaces are evident in a network of roads that seem to lead, as if organically, to the city that is situated mid-way down the peninsula, marked “Italy,” as if to place it at the center of the space of Europe.
Such a network-based envisioning of Rome at the center of European web runs in a sense against our conceptions of what a map of Rome does. It seems a retrograde version of the world wide web, indeed, foregrounding the conceit of mapping Europe as a brachiated network based in a geolocated Rome familiar from a format of Google Maps rather than a map of the ancient city’s space. But it is in ways quite a contemporary translation of the measure of roads by a milestone located in Rome erected in ancient times by the Roman Emperor Augustus, whose measure of the milestone of the Milliarium Aureum provided a a reference point to travel through the Empire, to which it was believed all roads led: and so when moovel Labs undertook to link the streets of Europe to confirm all roads truly lead to Rome today, the image of the 50,000 miles of highways that were constructed in the Roman empire by slave labor gain new form in the Google Maps template that seems curiously removed from work, and from the material presence of the ancient monuments that have lead cartographic imaginations to return to the ancient city to reconstruct from its ruins a palpable record of its past. Such a record makes fewer demands of study on viewers, since we are not assembling an image so that we can possess or own it, but as they present something like a resource that we can consult.
For the material presence of the past in Rome was celebrated and foregrounded in maps by a different iconography that situate viewers not only in relation to a place, but present a space able to be internalized. For maps of Rome not only situated its mythic monuments, and the built space of the ancient city, effectively immersing viewers in multiple layers of its past. Such maps enticingly invite viewers to grasp an elusive physical present of the past, rendered tangible, and carry the promise ability to investigate its space, and navigate the ancient organization of the city’s space and monumental public fora or squares as if they existed. The tools of surveying provided tools to access ancient Rome in maps, manufacturing a pleasure in presence as maps. The city also existed in one’s head, and could be poured over in a map, as if to order the temporal layers and perspectives on architecture which Isaac Babel, visiting Rome with Gorky in May of 1933, confessed himself both “dizzy with al these Coliseums, Forums, Sistine Chapels, Raphaels, Pantheons” from which at the same time “I can’t tear myself away” without knowing “when I’ll get to come back here” to “see all the things about which I’ve read hundreds of books since my childhood”: if Rome existed in the minds of visitors who suddenly became able to access its buildings–and did so more concretely than other cities–maps were turned to to order these impressions in a coherent form.
1. The sense of the monumentality of that past was communicated in maps. For maps of Rome recreated the scope and compass of maps and their pleasure as images that excavated the elegance of its ancient architecture–and iconic images of the past–to capture as well as pose the challenge of comprehending that relation to an only partly lost monumental past. The maps did double or triple duty: for the traces that they preserved of the ancient past became a guide to its present structure, and the place of the ancient city retained within the present city of Rome or Roman cities, and in the pasts of its multiple visitors.. And it in such a sense that Sigmund Freud, remembering his travels to Rome, returned to the figure of an imaginary map of the physical stratigraphy of Rome to describe the formation of memory in the human mind.
Despite the value of creating an immersive relation to that presence–which so famously makes cognitive demands on most of its visitors–we depend on maps not only to do orient us to space, but to do unique cognitive work of discriminating its different pasts and the material encrustation of its different layers. Only in the process of discriminating relations between these layers, and the different levels of places of worship, inhabitation, and monumentality within the city can we crate a personal relation to place. Rome’s construction has been long commemorated its civic order–first as a capital of the ancient world, later rebuilt and designed repeatedly as a new site of triumphalism and power–whose mapping posed unique problems of mapping both its spatial organization, and proposing new ways of commemorating, celebrating, and orienting viewers to its built space, in ways that created a unique pleasure in post-Renaissance maps of celebrating its order–of “re-membering” the city–and placing past patterns of habitation on view.
As much as trace spatial relations, maps of the buildings of Rome are powerful sites of memory that most urban maps of place balance qualitative content with schematic design. They offer their viewers amateur archeological searches of identification, and even spatial excavation of the layers of how space was occupied in the city, each map including echoes of the past habitation of the city’s physical plant, as if in a game of memory or amateur archeology, staking out both how a monumental urban space was built and how it revised the historical space on which it was configured. Despite the prominence of the ancient plan of the city in its Republican and Imperial identity, efforts to create a persuasive record of ordered space in maps amp up their cognitive work, as it were, to organize the multiple temporal layers of the city’s occupation of built space–from the walls that once contained urban areas to changing footprints of the city over time. And it is in many senses not surprising that as Freud was searching for a new metaphor to express his theory of the mind, increasingly uncomfortable with rooting psychic processes entirely specific material processes, by locating memory in a neural network capable of storing the impact of external stimuli, he turned to the mapping of sedimented historical pasts in Rome to describe the mind’s organization and map memories. In a sense, rather than retain the model of the conservation of neural energy to describe memory, he sought a common touchstone of organizing the past’s temporal succession in how maps offered an objective means to encode and organize multiple pasts, which echo the objective record of synchronous coexistence of multiple pasts that existed in archeological maps of Rome, which clarified past physical plants of Rome for their readers in ways that magically gave material existence to imagined buildings in the modern landscape.
The powerful clarification of coexistent ancient structures in the layered city that Freud frequently visited provided a powerful means for navigating the past, which could be analytically and empirically experienced, and indeed represented with a fitting objectivity: in the map, one might say, the past becomes a coherent territory.
The encompassing of such a burgeoning spectrum of spatial inhabitation is both the promise and daunting topic of maps of Rome from the Renaissance, and from the mid-eighteenth century–a proliferation of maps whose increasingly plastic design expanded the cognitive work maps did as tools to refine viewers’ relation to its pasts, in ways that reflected the mechanical possibilities to create a material record to the past.