This fascinating image was posted on Twitter the other day, I think by Groovy Historian, who puts up loads of great images:
I’m afraid I don’t know the attribution, but what the image is is a Medieval map of the city of Rome. That figure in black is mourning for the absent pope, who was living in exile in Avignon, in southern France, so that dates the map to between 1307 and 1377.
For me the really interesting thing about this map is that, you don’t need to look very closely to see, within the walls (the old 3rd century AD walls of imperial Rome), expanses of open space between the clusters of buildings. There’s actually more space than built-up area.
This clearly illustrates the fact that the medieval city was a mere shadow of what its former self had been under the Roman Empire. Medieval towns did often have farms and other non-buit up areas in them, but not usually on this scale. As for Ancient Rome, it was so crammed with buildings (though there were public parks and the great parade ground of the Campus Martius) that the city spilled over into suburbs outside the earlier walls which dated back to the Republic. Hence the need for new walls in the 3rd century. The sheer scale of spaces without buildings in late Medieval Rome is striking.
I have often wondered what being in Rome was like in the centuries after the fall of the Western Empire, and this map gives an insight into that. Some scenes must have been reminiscent of this:
This is a photo in Pinterest (again, I can’t see any attribution) of a city abandoned by the passage of history.
The city in question? Detroit in the 21st century.
By Peter Britton