The original maps of ancient Rome

The ancient Romans were excellent engineers and architects, no doubt about that, and also good connoisseurs of the importance of urban planning. Naturally, to achieve proper control of The Eternal City, maps had to be available. Most of them have been lost, mainly because they were made on perishable materials, but here is a marvel in the form of a stone puzzle that can be considered as a gigantic map of the ancient Rome. The map is fragmented into a multitude of stone pieces, which complicates its reconstruction, that showed in detail all the streets and houses of the city.

Around the 16th century appeared the remains of the gigantic map, called Forma Urbis Romae, made up of more than a thousand fragments of what one day became a great map of 18 by 13 meters. It is true that these remains are only a small part of the complete map, but they are still a marvel. For centuries, attempts have been made to put the pieces of the puzzle together by hand, but the cost of the process meant that, with a little luck, two pieces could be joined every few years. To get the puzzle assembled once and for all, since 1999 Stanford University has decided to scan the pieces and use computer technology in the process. The results are available online: Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project.

The first aerial photograph?

Possibly someone else tried it before, but at least the historical memory points to Nadar, pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, a French journalist and photographer, as the first person to take an aerial photograph.

It turns out that Nadar was a good cartoonist, highly valued for his drawings of politicians and people of high society. A friend advised him to buy a camera, with which to take pictures that would serve as a basis for the drawings.

He bought the camera and never gave up his love of the new technique capable of catching the light. Well, what I want to refer in this article are not the painter-photographer’s artistic ideas, but his brilliant idea of climbing into a balloon with the camera.

This happened in 1856, when no one had apparently thought of the simple idea of taking pictures from the air… until these moment. This simple gesture ushered in a new era in the understanding of the space we inhabit, a technology that, more than a century later, has borne fruit like Google Maps and other similar applications. Naturally, the first to realize the importance of the photographs taken from above were the military, who soon took advantage of the strategic capacity that aerial photography provided them.

Here is, as a tribute to Nadar, one of his photographs taken from a balloon, one of the first ever taken from above. Specifically, the image was capted in Paris, at the Champ de Mars, on October 18, 1863.

In the 19th century Egyptian mummies were not burned in the boilers…

The venerable mummies have survived hundreds, even thousands, of years, keeping the memory of their original dwellers, whether human beings or animals, in the hope of a new world on the other side of death. These corpses preserved in extraordinary conditions, whether by artificial means or due to extreme environmental conditions, are a very valuable source of scientific information for anthropologists and archaeologists, as well as for doctors and biologists.

But, unfortunately, there was a time when a very interesting and practical application for mummies was found, namely the hundreds of mummies that, as an “industrial” production method, were dug up in Egypt… hundreds of mummies ended up inside the boilers of North American locomotives!!

During the 19th century, Egyptian mummies were considered a kind of medicine. Famous was the dust of mummies to “cure” all kinds of diseases. The mummy paper, extracted from the bandages of those mummies, imported to the American continent from Egypt, was also widely used to cover food. Apparently, fish and sausages were well preserved in mummy paper. But the most curious thing was that, hundreds of them were used as fuel in steam engine boilers

Awesome! It would be if it were true, but it is a curious hoax. It turns out that Mark Twain, an great joker, had the idea of claiming to have seen mummies burned in locomotive boilers on one of his trips and, to top it all, he dared to joke that the mummies of kings burned better than the mummies of the poor. Pure joking, that gradually self-feeding and, at the turn of the century, it was considered that there were fragments of mummy everywhere, from the drugstore to the market. Of course, mummies were used to make fraudulent medicines and some of them even ended up in the boiler of some squeaky railroads, as in the case described by Twain but, of course, did not exist a widespread burning of mummies, and neither the manufacture of “mummy paper” on an industrial scale, although some attempts were made.

More information: Do Egyptians burn mummies as fuel?

The 20th century condensed into a single image

If I had to choose a single photograph representing the last century, I would certainly name the one that illustrates this small note.

This is a night shot entitled Hotshot Eastbound from the American master of photography Ogle Winston Link, taken in the 1950s. The image shows a jet airplane, in flight, projected on the screen of an drive-in theater, full of cars, while a train crosses the scene quickly. Simply brilliant.

By the way… there are those who say that a certain scene in the Simpsons is, in reality, a kind of homage-parody of this historic photograph. Specifically, I’m referring to episode 194 (5F12).

Iron maidens?

For a few days I have been reading a thick book that, apparently, deals with esoteric-medieval matters. The book, an essay on certain medieval myths, reviews some of the topics of those “dark” centuries, as one who cooks an omelet with a recipe he knows too well. In short, I came across the subject of torture on the part of the evil Inquisition and… the book reviews the presumed history of medieval tortures and affirm that the iron maidens were something common!

The iron maidens (apart from having named a famous music band after him) do not really have much history. This is that kind of female-form metal coffins in which the torture victim was supposedly introduced and, after closing the door, trapped and pierced by a pile of metal spikes. Yes, it appears in all kinds of films, books and even The Simpsons, but is not medieval. In fact, the iron maidens appeared late, supposedly back in the 17th century and had nothing to do with the Inquisition. The concept has a literary origin and, in reality, no case of medieval iron maiden is known.

However, with the fame created by the romantics on the subject, a few iron maidens were built in the 19th and 20th centuries for dark purposes. Much was said about the maiden of Nuremberg, supposedly from the 15th century, but today it can be said that it was an elaborate object much later.