An Animated Reconstruction of Ancient Rome: Take A 30-Minute Stroll Through the City’s Virtually-Recreated Streets

There are numer­ous ancient sto­ries illus­trat­ing the gar­gan­tu­an ego of the Emper­or Nero. Some of these may rise to the lev­el of his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tion. Nero did not, for exam­ple, fid­dle while Rome burned. For one thing, the fid­dle did not exist. For anoth­er, as the his­to­ri­an Tac­i­tus records, although the emper­or was miles away at his vil­la in Antium when the fires began, it’s said he returned to Rome and led relief efforts, pay­ing for many of them out of his own pock­et and hous­ing the new­ly home­less in his gar­den.

But the sto­ry may have been rewrit­ten to bur­nish Nero’s rep­u­ta­tion. After the mass­es blamed him for start­ing the fire, he turned around and blamed the city’s Chris­tians, Tac­i­tus reports, stag­ing elab­o­rate spec­ta­cles of tor­ture, burn­ing, and dis­mem­ber­ment. Sue­to­nius does record him as giv­ing some sort of musi­cal per­for­mance dur­ing the fires of 64 A.D., a rumor that had appar­ent­ly tak­en hold among the peo­ple. What­ev­er part he played, and what­ev­er truth there is to charges that he mur­dered the son of Claudius, one of his wives, and even his own moth­er, Nero clear­ly felt a press­ing need to leave a dif­fer­ent impres­sion of himself—as a tow­er­ing, bronze god-like fig­ure near­ly 100 feet high.

In the same year as the fires, he com­mis­sioned a colos­sal stat­ue of him­self as the sun god, inspired by the Colos­sus of Rhodes. The mas­sive Nero held a rud­der perched atop a globe, sug­gest­ing that his rule steered the course of the whole world. Nero killed him­self before the stat­ue was com­plet­ed, but Pliny the Elder writes of see­ing its cre­ation in the stu­dio of the sculp­tor, Zen­odor­us. It arose tow­er­ing above his palace, the Domus Aurea, in 72 A.D., and in 127, Hadri­an moved it near the Amphithe­atrum Flav­i­um, which sub­se­quent­ly became known in the statue’s hon­or as the Colos­se­um. It took up to 24 ele­phants to do the job, or so it’s said.

For the next few hun­dred years, until at least the sack of Rome by Alar­ic in 410 and a sub­se­quent series of earth­quakes, res­i­dents and vis­i­tors to the city walked beneath the loom­ing Nero/Helios/Apollo stat­ue, just fifty feet shy of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty. It was depict­ed on medal­lions and gems. Now the stat­ue is com­plete­ly van­ished, with noth­ing but a rem­nant of its pedestal remain­ing. But you can see it recon­struct­ed, along with 27 oth­er ancient Roman mon­u­ments, tem­ples, baths, mau­soleums, amphithe­aters, are­nas, etc.—many of them as grandiose and sto­ried as the Colossus—in the thir­ty-minute video above.

No, it’s not like strolling the streets of ancient Rome. The block­i­ly-ren­dered CGI recre­ations appear over con­tem­po­rary video of the city, full of con­tem­po­rary traf­fic and con­tem­po­rary fash­ions. As in every his­tor­i­cal recre­ation of antiq­ui­ty, for which the sources are few and con­tra­dic­to­ry, we have to use our imag­i­na­tions. The exer­cise is infi­nite­ly rich­er the more you learn about the van­ished or ruined struc­tures that once dom­i­nat­ed the city. See the full list of ancient build­ings and sculp­tures below.

0:10 Pala­tine Hill (…)

3:25 The Forum (…)

5:22 Basil­i­ca of Max­en­tius (…)

7:18 Tem­ple of Ves­ta (…)

7:26 House of the Vestals (…)

7:48 Tem­ple of Cas­tor and Pol­lux (…)

8:03 Tem­ple of Cae­sar (…)

8:13 Basil­i­ca Aemil­ia (…)

8:40 Basil­i­ca Julia (…)

9:17 Tem­ple of Sat­urn (…)

10:56 Curia Julia (…)

12:18 Forum of Augus­tus (…)

13:05 Forum of Ner­va (…)

13:47 Tra­jan’s Forum (…)

14:54 Forum of Cae­sar (…)

15:29 Colos­se­um (

17:42 Tem­ple of Venus and Roma (…)

18:59 Colos­sus of Nero and Meta Sudans (… -…)

19:28 Baths of Cara­calla (…)

26:39 Pan­theon (…)

28:13 Sta­di­um of Domit­ian (…)

29:23 Mau­soleum of Augus­tus (…)

29:39 Cir­cus Max­imus (…)

30:25 Sacred area (…)

31:21 The­atre of Pom­pey (…)

31:56 The­atre of Mar­cel­lus (…)

32:05 Tiber Island (…)

32:32 Mau­soleum of Hadri­an (…)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

All the Roman Roads of Italy, Visu­al­ized as a Mod­ern Sub­way Map

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

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.