Rome of the early Christians: You are there…

Ancient Rome.jpgGoogle has captured the future. Now it is taking over the past. But that’s not such a bad thing, when it provides new features like this “Ancient Rome 3D” marvel, which, as the NYTimes story shows, has re-created the Rome of Constantine’s era and allows the viewer to fly through its buildings and peruse its streets.

Ancient Rome 3D, as the new feature is known, is a digital elaboration of some 7,000 buildings recreating Rome circa A.D. 320, at the height of Constantine’s empire, when more than a million inhabitants lived within the city’s Aurelian walls.
In Google Earth-speak it is a “layer” to which visitors gain access through its Gallery database of images and information. “In this case the layer is above ground and not below where it should be” from an archaeological point of view, said Bernard Frischer, the director of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities.
For nearly three decades Professor Frischer has been the driving force of an effort to bring ancient Rome to virtual life. The Google Earth feature is based on his Rome Reborn 1.0, a 3-D reconstruction first developed in 1996 at the University of California, Los Angeles, and fine-tuned over the years with partners in the United States and Europe.
Of the 7,000 buildings in the 1.0 version, around 250 are extremely detailed. (Thirty-one of them are based on 1:1 scale models built at U.C.L.A.) The others are sketchier and derived from a 3-D scan of data collected from a plaster model of ancient Rome at the Museum of Roman Civilization here.

Check out the video demonstration of the program before downloading. Inter mirifica, indeed.

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Jeffery Ewener

posted December 11, 2008 at 11:36 am

Actually, it didn’t really feel that real to me — I think it was because of all the “flying” in and around, and the aerial shots and so forth. We see these in “artist’s recreations” all the time. But it’s a view of Rome that no one of that time would have seen or likely ever imagined, or at least not often. It feels sterilized, in vitro-ized, lifeless (come to think, were there any people?). What would be exciting would be a ground-level experience — what are the seats like in the Colliseum, and what kind of views were there? Or looking up and in from the steps of the Senate, standing in the Forum and looking around. To me that’s a “you are there” idea. Of course even that would leave out the sounds and stinks and bashing around, the feel of the grounds underfoot. And felt inside, like their fear of crime — were most Romans afraid on the streets, most of the time? Or not? I don’t really want to criticize, but I think this is typical of a lot of what passes for history today, a kind of Disneyfication. And it starts with the Disneyfication of our own experience, so we lose our sense of what the fullness of the world really is.

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