Imagine ancient Rome before its fall: The 1,350 or so fountains still trickle with water, the 1,790 palaces haven't fallen to ruins, and the 240 public latrines are still in business.
In painstaking detail, French comic book artist Gilles Chaillet has brought the ancient city back to life with an immense map based on a lifetime of research and a touch of artistic license.
Chaillet dreamed up the project when he was 9 years old. Nearly 50 years later, he came to the Eternal City to show it off to the Romans.
"This was an idea I could never get out of my head," Chaillet said Thursday. "It was a bit of an obsession."
There are no definitive surviving maps of ancient Rome, which accounted for most of the challenge, he said.
Chaillet's immense map is colored with cheerful greens, russets and pearly tones by his wife, Chantal. Looking at it, you can imagine a day's stroll in Rome circa A.D. 314: a leisurely morning at the bathhouses, a stop at the market to buy some chickpeas, and a trip to the Circus Maximus to take in a chariot race.
When Chaillet was a child in Paris, he discovered the ruins of Rome through a postcard and comic books.
"I announced to my parents, 'I want to re-create ancient Rome,' " he said. "They said, 'Calm down, and go do your math homework.' "
Chaillet's father was so frustrated by his son's lack of attention to his schoolwork that he set fire to some early Rome sketches.
Chaillet, 58, made other Rome maps at age 13, then at 20, during his military service. After high school, he became a successful comic book artist in a country where everyone from kindergartners to executives reads them.
Chaillet visited archives, libraries and museums to research his project.
He set his map in 314 because the majestic and well-preserved Arch of Constantine wasn't built until about then, and he felt that most Rome-lovers couldn't imagine the city without it.
When Chaillet finally sat down to sketch the 11 foot-by-6 1/2 foot map, he spent 5,000 hours at the drawing board. His wife spent another 3,000 hours coloring it.
The map has been displayed in museums around France, and in April Chaillet published a 200-page French-language book to accompany the project, "Inside the Rome of the Cesars." [more]