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Step Back in Time

Aug 20, 2007
A team of experts have developed a digital computer model of the ancient city in 320AD, bring the past a little closer to the present.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was the technology that has scientists, archaeologists, historians and computer game fans excited all at once. An international team of experts has unveiled a 'virtual Rome' program, the worlds biggest and most complex computer simulation of what the ancient city was like in 320 AD, under the rule of Constantine. An era considered to be the most powerful peak Rome experienced during ancient times.

The project, a culmination of ten years of work and a collaberation of experts in architecture, archaeology and computer programmers from the United States, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom, was introduced in June this year under the title of 'Rome Reborn'. It's a digital, interractive model of the city that features more than 7,000 buildings and structures, which the viewer can enter and explore in real-time 3D animation.

At the unveiling, Bernard Frischer, project deveoper said 'This is the first step in the creation of a virtual time machine, which our children and grandchildren will use to study the history of Rome and many other great cities around the world.'

The mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni has also praised the project, saying 'It's a fascinating experience, re-created with all the necessary historical and philological care. In other words, it will allow us to to be in the Roman Forum and understand the context we are in.'

To create the program, digital pictures were taken of the Plastico di Roma Antica, a 16 x 17 meter sized plaster model which was built in 1934-74 and is currently on display at the Museum of Roman Civilization. These images were combined with information from laser scans taken of whats left of the remains of these buildings today. Ancient maps and building catalogues were also used by the project developers to reproduce buildings like apartments, houses, and shops as accurately as possible.

Each site that features in the program is accredited by independant 'recognised authorities'. These authorities are historians and archaeologists who have worked on each particular site over many years and are considered industry experts, to ensure these ancient sites are portrayed accurately, according to the evidence which exists to date.

The project website expains however, that the project has been produced in such a way that it can be updated should future evidence or archaeological findings determine innaccuracies in the model. 'The model is a representation of the state of our knowledge (and implicitly, of our ignorance) about the urban topography of ancient Rome at various periods of time.'

The $2 million project at this early stage, allows viewers to navigate their way around the city by using simple keyboard controlls. They can enter buildings including the Colosseum, the Senate, the Forum and Temple of Venus, even private residences to examine details of the interior including frescoes and decorative details of the buildings.

At the Colosseum for example, the arena floor, and seating areas can be viewed, as well as the underground chambers onced used to house wild animals caught and stabled for public events such as gladiator matches. One can even view the operation of elevators used to move the animals into the area from their holding cells.

Selected sites are accompanied by text descriptions about details of the site such as it's history and structural points of interest, which can also be expanded as new information comes to hand.

Developers have pointed to several uses for the program, which is already available to industry proffesionals for further research and study.

According to Frischer, '3D modeling is the natural evolution of archaeological research, allowing possibilities for studies on light accoustics, and ventilation, and other aspects of structural engineering techniques used in ancient times.'

He explains that even for the experts who's life work involves the study and analysis of ancient cities, viewing their project sites in 3D forces them to consider details like this about the sites that they havent in the past.

A purpose built theatre at the UCLA provides access to the model on a 24 x 9ft screen that gives 160 degree views of the program when viewed with 3D glasses, but those of us at home interested in the project can view samples of the simulation through the internet. The developers hope that the project will expand to include other ancient cities around the world, and be available for purposes like education, and even commercial uses like a 'home study' kit for tourists planning a visit to Rome, interested in the history of the city.

Plans are already in place to make the model available for viewing at an orientation centre opposite the Colosseum in the near future. In the mean time, the team is focusing on developing the Rome model earlier and later in time, from as early as the Bronze Age up to the Gothic Wars.

With sponsors like Intel and Microsoft funding the development of the project, chances are it wont be long before time travel will be possible for the average family, at least through your TV or computer screen, that is.
About the Author
Gaizka Pujana is the co-owner of Barcelona Homes, S.L. which is a company
specialized in providing short term tenancy solutions in Seville and Barcelona through its
web pages Vacation apartments Rome
Rome vacation apartments
Appartement Rome
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