Take Animated Virtual Reality Tours of Ancient Rome at Its Architectural Peak (Circa 320 AD)

Maybe you, too, were a Latin geek who loved sword and san­dal flicks from the gold­en age of the Hol­ly­wood epic? Quo Vadis, The Fall of the Roman Empire, The Robe, Demetrius and the Glad­i­a­tors, and, of course, Spar­ta­cus…. Nev­er mind all the heavy reli­gious pre­text, con­text, sub­text, or ham­mer over the head that suf­fused these films, or any pre­tense toward his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy. What thrilled me was see­ing ancient Rome come alive, bustling with togas and tunics, cen­tu­ri­ons and char­i­ots. The cen­ter of the ancient world for hun­dreds of years, the city, nat­u­ral­ly, retains only traces of what it once was—enormous mon­u­ments that might as well be tombs.

The incred­i­bly detailed 3D ani­ma­tions here don’t quite have the same rous­ing effect, grant­ed, as the “I am Spar­ta­cus!” scene. They don’t star Charl­ton Hes­ton, Sophia Loren, or Kirk Dou­glas. They appeal to dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­i­ties, it’s true. But if you love the idea of vis­it­ing Rome dur­ing one of its peak peri­ods, you might find them as sat­is­fy­ing, in their way, as Peter Ustinov’s Nero speech­es.

Dat­ing not from the time of Mark Antony or even Jesus, the painstak­ing­ly-ren­dered tours of ancient Rome depict the city as it would have looked—sans humans and their activity—during its “archi­tec­tur­al peak,” as Realm of His­to­ry notes, under Con­stan­tine, “cir­ca 320 AD.”

The VR trail­er at the top from His­to­ry in 3D, devel­oped by Dani­la Logi­nov and Lasha Tskhon­dia, depicts, in Loginov’s words, “the Forums area, and also Pala­tine and Capi­toli­um hills.” The two addi­tion­al trail­ers for the project show the “baths of Tra­jan and Titus, the stat­ue of Colos­sus Solis, arch­es of Titus and Con­stan­tine, Ludus Mag­nus, the tem­ple of Divine Claudius. Our team spent some time and recre­at­ed this area along with all minor build­ings as a com­plex and added it to the mod­el which has been already done.” This means, he says, “we have now almost the entire cen­ter of ancient impe­r­i­al Rome already recre­at­ed!”

We glide gen­tly over the city with a low-flying-bird’s eye view, tak­ing in its real­is­tic sky­line, tree-lined streets, and gur­gling foun­tains. The lack of any human pres­ence makes the expe­ri­ence a lit­tle chilly, but if you’re moved by clas­si­cal archi­tec­ture, it also presents a refresh­ing lack of distraction—an impos­si­ble request in a vis­it to mod­ern Rome. Anoth­er project, Rome Reborn, which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here, takes a dif­fer­ent approach to the same impe­r­i­al city of 320 AD. The trail­ers for their VR app don’t pro­vide the seam­less flight expe­ri­ence, but they do con­tain equal­ly epic music. (They also have a few peo­ple in them, block­i­ly-ren­dered gawk­ing tourists rather than ancient Romans.)

Instead, these clips give us fas­ci­nat­ing glimpses of the inte­ri­ors of such splen­did struc­tures as the Basil­i­ca of Maxentius—tiled floors, domed ceil­ings, columned walls—from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. We also get to fly above the city, drone-style, or hot air bal­loon-style, as it were. In the clip below, we cruise over Rome in that vehi­cle, with Bernard Frisch­er, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia, serv­ing as the app’s “vir­tu­al archae­ol­o­gist” in an audio tour.

“The ambi­tious under­tak­ing,” of the Rome Reborn app, writes Meilan Sol­ly at Smith­son­ian, “painstak­ing­ly built by a team of 50 aca­d­e­mics and com­put­er experts over a 22-year peri­od, recre­ates 7,000 build­ings and mon­u­ments scat­tered across a 5.5 square mile stretch of the famed Ital­ian city.” The three mod­ules of the Rome Reborn app demoed here are all avail­able at their web­site. Geeks—and his­to­ri­ans of ancient Roman archi­tec­ture and city planning—rejoice.

via Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Huge Scale Mod­el Show­ing Ancient Rome at Its Archi­tec­tur­al Peak (Built Between 1933 and 1937)

An Inter­ac­tive Map Shows Just How Many Roads Actu­al­ly Lead to Rome

The Ups & Downs of Ancient Rome’s Economy–All 1,900 Years of It–Get Doc­u­ment­ed by Pol­lu­tion Traces Found in Greenland’s Ice

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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