Today any of us can go Athens, a city with flavorful food, pleasant weather, a picturesque setting, reasonable prices, and a decent subway system. That is to say, we can enjoy Athens as it is, but what about Athens as it was? As one of the oldest cities in the world, not to mention a developmental center of Western civilization itself, its history holds as much interest as its present reality. Despite all the historical research into ancient Greece, we lack a fully accurate image of what Athens looked and felt like at the height of its power as a city-state. But thanks to the last dozen years of work by photographer and visual effects artist Dimitris Tsalkanis, we can experience Athens as it might have been in the form of Ancient Athens 3D.
"Visitors to the site can browse reconstructions that date back as early as 1200 BCE, the Mycenaean period — or Bronze Age — through Classical Athens, featuring the rebuilds made necessary by the Greco-Persian War, and ages of occupation by Romans and Ottomans," writes Hyperallergic's Sarah Rose Sharp.
"Tsalkanis traces the evolution of sites like the Acropolis throughout the ages, the rise and fall of the city walls, the Agora, which served as center of city life, and various temples, libraries, and other fortifications." All we might see only as monochromatic ruins on our modern Athenian travels stands tall and colorful in Tsalkanis' three-dimensional digital recreation — as does all that hasn't survived even as ruins.
Tsalkanis writes of using "artistic license" to reconstruct "monuments that have left few or no traces at all (like the Mycenaean palace of the Acropolis) and other complementary constructions — such as houses — that were incorporated into the render in order to create a more complete image of the monument and its space." Though he draws on all the historical and archaeological information he can find, much of that information remains sketchy, or at least incomplete. Fortunately, the digital nature of the project, as well as its accessibility to viewers with knowledge of their own to offer, keeps it more or less current with the state of the research. "Tsalkanis stays up to date with his fantasy city," writes Sharp, "updating reconstructions constantly for better quality of models and better archaeological and historical accuracy.
"You can immerse into this environment," Tsalkanis tells Sharp, "or you can even 3D print it if you like." You can also view the individual digital reconstruction videos posted to Ancient Athens 3D's Youtube channel, which showcase such monuments as the Temple of Ilissos, the Temple of Hephaestus, and the city of Delphi. Just as Tsalkanis' historical models of Athens will continue to be filled in, expanded, and improved, the technological range of their possible uses will only expand. Tsalkanis himself mentions the smartphone apps that could one day enrich our visits to Athens with augmented reality — allowing us, in other words, to experience Athens as it is and Athens as it might have been, both at the same time.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.