The Tabula Peutingeriana, one of the strangest and most intriguing maps that antiquity has given us, can be seen in the Montegrotto Thermalism Museum, which we visited during our meeting in Padua. This is a pictorial representation of the ancient world, which we can observe thanks to a medieval copy of an original map of the Roman period (unfortunately lost). We think that the original map could be dated to the first half of the 5th century AD.
The Tabula, originally, was formed by a roll of parchment 34 cm high and more than 7 meters long, and precisely because of the size of the support, the world appears to be represented in a evidently distorted way: compressed in a north-south direction and very stretched on the east-west one.
An aspect that immediately catches the attention is the intertwining of red segmented lines, which represent the road network of the Roman world. There are also the indications of the stopping places (where you could rest for the night or simply have some food and change your horse) and the distances between one and the other. Various vignettes (as the cartographic symbols in a modern map) indicate the different nature of the stopping places or settlements. Among them, those linked to the thermal sites stand out in terms of size and number, and are depicted as a horseshoe-shaped structure including a central space filled with water.
Why does a road map give so much importance to these structures? The answer is clear: after a long journey, walking through dust and mud, there was no better thing than refreshing yourself by taking a nice dive into a swimming pool!
Times change, but travellers stay the same – after a long hike, we love to enjoy a thermal bath. Montegrotto area, which hosts the Thermalism museum and the copy of the famous Tabula Peutingeriana is perfectly situated along the walking route of the Via Romea Stata, providing a road to Rome and refreshing thermal water along the way.
Article written in collaboration with Jacopo Turchetto, Researcher of Ancient Topography at the Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Padua