This series of posts discusses the topography of eighteenth and nineteenth-century views of the Colosseum seem from the north. By looking at the sightlines of these views, plotted on Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome, the first comprehensive accurately surveyed map of the city, it is possible to work out where these views were made from when they are based on observation of the site.
This area north of the Colosseum is not often depicted in topographical views. The most useful is a set of three etchings made by Luigi Rossini in 1828 from the campanile of S. Maria Nova (Fig. 1, Fig. 3 point A3). These join to make a panorama, so that the left side of the first plate can be joined to the right side of the last (Fig. 2).
What we see here can be correlated with the Nolli map (Fig. 3). This shows a road leading north from the Colosseum (today Via del Colosseo) to a fork in the road at the church of SS. Andrea Apostolo e Bernardino dei Rigattieri, now S. Maria della Neve (Fig. 4). The area around this church is little changed, as a view from beside the church to the Colosseum shows (Fig. 5). To the north-east S. Francesca di Paola, S. Pietro in Vincoli, and the Baths of Titus. All of these are visible in Rossini’s etchings (Fig. 6).
However, moving in more closely to the area closer to the Colosseum (Fig. 7) things are much changed because of the construction of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the line of which can be superimposed on the Nolli map by superimposing a modern cartographic image such as Google maps. Rossini looks down onto the platform of the Temple of Venus and Rome, on which S. Maria Nova is built. He shows clearly the sharp north edge of the platform at the left (Fig. 7, K1) and the corner (K2). The east edge towards the Colosseum is less clearly delineated because of the angle of view. Closer to the church ore some fallen columns from the temple (B). The north edge casts a deep shadow onto a pathway below the platform. The combined first and third plates of Rossini (Fig. 2) show that this is a roughly defined route to the back of the Basilica of Constantine that goes past fallen columns from the Temple of Venus and Rome (road 5, road E).
Looking at the Nolli map and Google maps (Fig. 3) we can see that road 5 corresponds to the modern Clivo di Venere Felice. The buttressed wall on the far side so conspicuous in Rossini (Fig. 2) is clearly marked on Nolli.
On the far side of this Nolli shows fields (Fig. 3), through which the Via dei Fori Imperiali now passes. On the far side of these fields Nolli shows a wall, running to a building on the corner (building G). On the far side of this building a street, the modern Via del Colosseo runs up to SS. Andrea e Bernardino. In Rossini (Fig. 7) this area is hard to read as there is a building that seems to be continuous with building F1, which appears in paintings by van Wittel and Panini at the start of the road leading left around the Colosseum to via Labicana. A closer inspection, however (marked with a line in Fig. 7, also Fig. 8) reveals this to be building G. It lies between a short section of buttressed wall (C) and the Via del Colosseo. Merlons line the wall running along the Via del Colosseo. Lining the street opposite is a building (H1), which I have not yet identified, and a smaller matching building (H2). At the right of building H1 is an entrance marked with a segmental pediment that gives access to a garden behind. Next to this is a gap, which is the street, road 4, that separates this from building F3, followed by building F2. A section of low wall with a garden is hidden behind building G. Then comes building F1.
Rossini’s high viewpoint shows the various routes across the empty public space to the north-west of the Colosseum. Coming from SS. Andrea e Bernardino the road splits, one branch following buildings F3 to F1 and on to the Via Labicana (road 1A), the other going to a central ‘interchange’ space (L) (road 1B). From this point one can go to Via Labicana, the Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus, or up road 5. These leave neutral spaces, a triangular one that corresponds to mound 1 in earlier paintings (there seems to be not muchof a mound at this date), and another, larger one that corresponds to mound 2.