What did ancient Rome look like?

For many years the best visualisation of the vastness of ancient Rome was to be found with a hand-made scale model located in the Museo della Civiltà Romana (Museum of Roman Civilization) in Rome’s modernist EUR district, in the south-east suburbs of the city.

The vast and staggeringly impressive Plastico di Roma Imperiale, created by architect Italo Gismondi, was based on a contemporaneous map of the city, the Forma Urbis. It was begun in 1933 and was finished in time for the Emperor Augustus’s bimilennial celebrations held by Mussolini in 1937.

Alas this museum has been closed for renovations some time, so the model is now only glimpsed on posters for sale in tourist spots.

The good news is that a recently-released video (aove), the result of a collaboration between the Khan Academy and Rome Reborn, goes above and beyond the model.  It takes us on a flight around the ancient city at its height of population, power and development, and manages to give a real indication of what it must have been like to be there.

Other CGI recreations of the city are visible in the beautiful new Palatine Museum, atop the Palatine Hill in the Forum, and from DVDs available for sale at various tourist kiosks.