VR Rome: Reconstructing Rome in the 21st century
Digital formats and computer technologies can help us visualize the past and learn in engaging ways. For example, when we look at archaeological site or monument composed of a number of walls, architecture blocks, column drums and ground plan it all seems confusing to the uninitiated; so much of the original structure is missing! There have been many attempts to imagine, with accuracy, what ancient Rome looked like in various stages, from Republic, to Empire and beyond. In fact, virtual reconstructions, which have been around for hundreds of years (just look at some of Piranesi’s reconstructions in the 18th century and other images in this video: Sources of Ancient Rome) can assist in the understanding of such enigmatic sites. The results are immediate, as the viewer can understand volumes and spaces of structures only partially preserved or excavated. But make no mistake, the reconstructions are only as good as the research and data behind it.
The fly-over video above was created by animator and motion specialist Andrea Troiani with input from archaeologist Darius Arya to give a brief overview of the ancient city of Rome in the fourth century AD, including the core of the areas ARL covers with videos, photos, and live streaming. It’s our brief take on reconstructing the metropolis of imperial Rome.
And it’s a worthwhile endeavour. Scholars, architects, archaeologists and engineers have been reconstructing Rome for a long time. From Renaissance times, artists and academics have studied and measured Roman ruins and reconstructed them as single monuments or the entire cityscape for a captive audience. On great series of views of the ruins of Rome is by Duperac in (video: Sources of Ancient Rome). The most famous physical reconstruction of the city in the 20th century is the celebrated plastico by Gismondi. This massive project was based on visible physical remains and also the Romans’ record of the city, in particular, through the 4th century Regionary Catalogs and the best preserved ancient plan of imperial Rome. This is the Severan-age Forma Urbis marble plan found in the 3rd century AD Forum of Peace. Gismondi depended on a lot of its data, measured plans of monuments and houses, fountains and roads, for his own physical reproduction of the city.
The reproduction of Rome is a long and storied study in the digital age as well. Digital production was pioneered in the late 1990s by Professor Bernie Frischer and his ongoing Rome Reborn project. Many other related Rome studies have also pioneered the way we understand Rome, for example, Professor Richard Beacham’s many contributions, including the Skenographia Project. The Digital Forma Urbis project by Stanford University has also enhanced such studies, providing a 3D model of every fragment known of the marble Forma Urbis. These are just a few examples worth exploring. Today with massive advances in technology, there are universities creating visions of the city via websites (e.g., Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin’s Digital Forum Romanum) and even for unique one-off online courses (e.g., University of Reading, Professor Matthew Nicholls and AIRC’s introduction to Rome course).
Nothing can take the place of traveling to Rome and walking in its incredible spaces, areas, and monuments, but new technology, including livestreaming, videos, augmented reality and virtual reality are taking their place alongside handmade models and hand drawn reconstructions, providing new, exciting ways to learn more about ancient Rome!