A Guided Tour of the Largest Handmade Model of Imperial Rome: Discover the 20x20 Meter Model Created During the 1930s

At the moment, you can’t see the largest, most detailed hand­made mod­el of Impe­r­i­al Rome for your­self. That’s because the Museo del­la Civiltà Romana, the insti­tu­tion that hous­es it, has been closed for ren­o­va­tions since 2014. But you can get a guid­ed tour of “Il Plas­ti­co,” as this grand Rome-in-minia­ture is known, through the new Ancient Rome Live video above. “The archae­ol­o­gist and archi­tect Ita­lo Gis­mon­di cre­at­ed this amaz­ing mod­el,” explains host Dar­ius Arya, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his tour of Pom­peii. Work­ing at a 1:250 scale, Gis­mon­di built most of Il Plas­ti­co between 1933 and 1937, with lat­er expan­sions after its instal­la­tion in the Museo del­la Civiltà Romana.

Archae­ol­o­gists and oth­er schol­ars have, of course, learned more about the Eter­nal City over the past nine decades, knowl­edge reflect­ed in reg­u­lar­ly updat­ed dig­i­tal mod­els like Rome Reborn. But none have showed Gis­mondi’s ded­i­ca­tion to painstak­ing man­u­al labor, which allowed him to craft prac­ti­cal­ly every then-known archi­tec­tur­al and infra­struc­tur­al fea­ture with­in the walls of Rome in the Con­stan­tin­ian age, from 306 to 337 AD.

Arya points out rec­og­niz­able land­marks like the Colos­se­um, the Forum, and the Pyra­mid of Ces­tius as well as bridges, riv­er for­ti­fi­ca­tions, aque­ducts, and even land­scap­ing details down to the lev­el of indi­vid­ual trees.

Even when the cam­era zooms way in, Gis­mondi’s Rome looks prac­ti­cal­ly hab­it­able (and indeed, it may appeal to some view­ers more than do the mod­ern Euro­pean cities that are its descen­dants). It’s no won­der that Rid­ley Scott, a direc­tor famous­ly sen­si­tive to visu­al impact, would use the mod­el in Glad­i­a­tor. And while a video tour like Arya’s pro­vides a clos­er-up view of many sec­tions of Il Plas­ti­co than one can get in per­son, the only way to ful­ly appre­ci­ate the sheer scale of the achieve­ment is to behold its phys­i­cal real­i­ty. Luck­i­ly, you should be able to do just that next year, when the Museo del­la Civiltà Romana is sched­uled to reopen at long last. But then, no more could Rome be built in a day than its muse­um could be ren­o­vat­ed in a mere decade.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Huge Scale Mod­el Show­ing Ancient Rome at Its Archi­tec­tur­al Peak (Built Between 1933 and 1937)

Rome Reborn: A New 3D Vir­tu­al Mod­el Lets You Fly Over the Great Mon­u­ments of Ancient Rome

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Tony R says:

    As impressed as I am by the 3d ren­der­ings used in mod­ern con­struc­tion, I am in awe at the mod­els that archi­tects used to lro­pose projects. See­ing an entire, ancient city of this size and detail is far and above the great­est exam­ple I have seen (in peraon or video). I can’t begin to imag­ine the time and effort it took to do this. Even in a four year span.

  • Greg Evans says:

    An impres­sive dis­play of Impe­r­i­al Rome.
    Authen­tic to the entire area!Of the method of Life,in Rome

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