A digital project out of Rice University has used historical urban plans, maps, photographs and sketches of Rio de Janeiro to create an interactive, visual retelling of how the iconic city came to be the way it is today. imagineRio is the work of the university’s Humanities Research Center, led by Farès el-Dahdah, Professor of the Humanities, and Alida C. Metcalf, Professor of History.

“imagineRio is a searchable atlas that illustrates the social and urban evolution of Rio de Janeiro over the entire history of the city, as it existed and as it was often imagined,” reads the project’s description as the academic team seek to visualize the developments that led to the creation of the multi-layered, 6-million-people-strong city we know today. “Views of the city created by artists, maps by historical cartographers, and ground floor plans by architects –from iconographic, cartographic, and architectural archives– are located in both time and space while their associated visual and spatial data are integrated across a number of databases and servers including an open-access digital library of images, a geographic information system, an open source relational database, and a content delivery web service.”

By dragging the slider through the ages, from 1500 to 2016, the map morphs – “To make Rio what it is today, mountains were leveled, swamps drained, shorelines redrawn, ridgelines altered, and islands joined to the mainland, while the adjacent Tijuca Forest was first cleared for planting coffee and extracting charcoal only to later be replanted for the protection of the city’s water sources. Such a changing physical and social landscape, with all its political consequences, lends itself to being spatially contextualized in a digital platform that maps and illustrates transformation over time.” Meanwhile, clicking on the map brings up historical photos and art from those very locations. “Every image that we could geolocate, we geolocated,” Metcalf told Rice University blog. “Once you geolocate the image, you click on the map and see what the artist saw—kind of like time travel.” Whether you’re a historian, social scientist, urbanist, cartographer or even a tourist, it’s definitely worth checking out here.

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