This image belongs to Sebastian Muster (1488-1552), cartographer, cosmographer and German Herbaraist. It is a map of the city of Rome in 1549, included in the book Cosmographie Universalis. Technically it is an engraving that follows the emptying wood technique and later printing in relief obtaining a sheet of simple aspect that later is coloured.
It is easy to appreciate how the city of Rome was and the huge monuments that were built in its area. The city is full of churches, basilicas and some castles. In the image, we can appreciate part of the urban layout of the city. On the one hand, the urbanistic structure of Rome must be considered as exceptional because it was set over a special topography formed by seven hills (Palatine, Aventine, Capitol, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline and Celio) in addition to an island in the River Tiber, called Tiberina. It was difficult to establish a regular plan in a place with so many slopes so that the urban layout is irregular and not all the streets are equal. There are two major streets that cross the city from one side to the other, and the rest are narrow, irregular streets. The quick increase of inhabitants (more than one million in the Imperial Era) provocked an anarchic growth. Those who had not money, used to live in the high zones of the city and the swampy zone that was in the centre turned into the forum where the principal public buildings were located. The poorest classes lived in narrow streets in the lowest and unhealthy zones or in the depredated neighbourhoods of the periphery and the port; this zone formed the city outskirts.
Regarding the buildings, one of the principal urban elements that we can appreciate in the image is the complex of Saint Angelo’s Castle and Saint Angelo’s Bridge. They both were connected to the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Church through three large avenues. The picture displays how Saint Peter’s Church stands out in the background near the castle. In spite of the popular belief, Saint Peter’s is not a cathedral, since Saint John of Letran Archbasilica is the real Rome cathedral. In the middle right we can find Agrippa’s pantheon that was built at the beginning of the Roman Empire (27 a.c). It was very important for the citizens due to it was dedicated to all Roman gods. The forum was one of the most important urban elements because in this area it took place the bustling activity as trade, business and social interchange. Below this point, there is the basilica of Saint John of Letran. It is located out of the limits of the Vatican area although inside Rome city and close to the city wall. In the bottom right it is possible to appreciate Aureliana Wall which has an original length of 19 Km. It has a hexagonal shape and is composed of 382 towers and 18 Principals doors. This city wall was built to defend the population against the Barbarians invasions. In the bottom left is the Diocleciano’s thermal baths in where people can swim, wash and enjoy.
The city composition is amazing because of the presence of all these buildings in different areas. It is curious to note Rome was damaged for a long period of abandon. Thanks to the Renaissance, they built splendid palaces and squares dominated by S.’s Pedro dome. As they saw Rome had suffered an abandoned, designed the execution of the project of the new city putting it in hands of his architects. In 1455 Pope Nicolás V explained one of the principal motives of the restoration. He announced that it was destined “to the exaltation of the power of the Holy See for the whole Christianity” demonstrating the authority of the Roman Church. The idea of Nicolás V was to transform Rome into an image of the Celestial Jerusalem with big buildings constructed as it is described in the Holy Bible.
Paula Ruiz Pallán