Imagine working on one thing for 35 years.
That’s how long it took Italo Gismondi to build a painstakingly realistic model of ancient Rome. Commissioned by Mussolini to build the model in 1933, Gismondi used a number of ancient maps to create the model and kept adding to it for 35 years. His finished product is considered to be scrupulously accurate and detailed — so much so that historians apparently use it to give them a better sense of the city as a whole.
The model reveals a Rome that was beautiful and sprawling, with a glimpse of what an amazing place it must have been when the Colosseum, the Forum, and the other buildings were intact and in use and buildings and people were packed together. Those of us who have been lucky enough to visit Rome have seen these once-glorious buildings only in ruins and in isolation, without their neighboring buildings to give a complete picture of ancient Rome in full flower. It must have been a bustling, extraordinary place.
Gismondi’s model depicts Rome as it was in the fourth century AD. That time period shows Rome, the city, at its height, but was also a time when the Roman Empire was in decline. Only 100 years later, in 476 AD, the last Roman emperor was toppled by barbarian invaders and the Dark Ages descended in the west.
The Gismondi model is on display at the Museum of Roman Civilization, in Rome. I didn’t visit that museum on our trip to Italy years ago, but I hope to make it back to Italy one of these days, and when I do that museum will be a must-see stop.