One of my course mates, Colin, jokes that my answer to everything is to look at the Nolli map of Rome – he’s almost right.

Nolli’s drawing of Rome, engraved in 1748, is a detailed map of Rome as it existed at the time. Showing the ground floor plan of public buildings, including the many historic churches that litter the city; and the ‘private’ buildings – residential, commercial – as poche, Nolli defined the city by levels of public accessibility. In doing so he identified the key public ‘hubs’ within Rome. While many of these, as would be expected, are churches; some government buildings, centres of business, and educational establishments are also shown as public.

There is a good background to the creation of the Nolli plan of Rome available online:

Nolli Plan

A portion of Nolli’s drawing of Rome.


It is not just the extraordinary detail in the surveying of Rome that makes the drawing rather special, but also what we can learn from it. Nolli shows public buildings, hubs of community activity, as integrated within the urban fabric. Much in the same way as the mosques of Egypt and Syria sit embedded in their contexts, these hubs of Roman life are embedded within the poche of Nolli’s drawing. In a time where statement architecture, particularly for ‘important buildings’, is increasingly the norm it is quite refreshing to explore a city where the ‘important buildings’ are as much part of the overall city fabric as the buildings between them. More about this idea in the context of cities today from Lawrence Barth’s speaking about workspace urbanism.

Browse the interactive Nolli map, made available online by the University of Oregon: