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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Nolli, Roman Ruins, and Ruin Redevelopment

One of the most iconic maps is the one of Rome produced by Giambattista Nolli in 1748. There are many amazing things about this figure-ground depiction of the Eternal City, such as the minute detail with which he rendered the interior of public buildings. Nolli also numbered each building, a total of 1320 sites. Of these sites, he lists 60 of them as being in ruins. Truth be told, however, a large portion of the ancient footprint of Rome had become depopulated over the centuries and lay in ruins. This area, the disabitato, was becoming resettled in Nolli's time and contained villas, gardens and agriculture.

In built-up urban areas, ruins have long provided an extra open space, or provided the opportunity for redevelopment. This process continues today. In previous posts we have shown artistic depictions of ruins reuse, for industry and other activities. I can also think of instances in which ruins were cleared and the space redeveloped, though this is less interesting to me because of it's lack of concern for historical preservation. We see in the Nolli map some reuse of Roman ruins for new activities, but also some ruins which have since been cleared.

Anfiteatro Castrense (no. 20 on the Nolli map) is now a garden. The ruins of the villa di Mecenata (no. 39) were destroyed in 1877 for the new Via Carlo Alberto. The Arco di Tito (no. 73) was restored in 1821, while the Coserve d'acqua delle Terme Diocleziane (no. 200) was destroyed. Castro Pretorio (no. 202) is now part of the national library. Maus. di Augusto (no. 472) was restored in the 1930 with a heavy hand, wiping out some of the surrounding buildings. Remains of the Ponte Trionfale (no. 541), a bridge over the Tiber, is still visible when the water level is low. The Terme di Trajan Decio ruins (no. 1079) have been covered by 20th century housing.

An interesting study would be to survey those buildings listed as ruins by Nolli, and to compare the restored, reused, and destroyed buildings with the ones that were left alone.

All this is relevant to the previous post about Canopy Gap. Just the death of a tree provides opportunity for new growth, so too a ruin can provide either space for a new structure, or simply for a new activity within the ruins.

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