If we seek to understand Western civilization, we must look back not just to Rome, but also to Athens. And today, thanks to computer-generated imagery informed by historical research, we can look not just to those cities, but at them — or at least at convincing digital reconstructions, but from angles their actual inhabitants could scarcely have imagined. A few years ago, we featured here on Open Culture the Youtube channel Ancient Athens 3D for its reconstructions of individual structures like the Temples of Ilissos and Hephaestus. Its more recent video above offers a twelve-minute virtual tour of all classical Athens in the fifth century BC, the height of ancient Greek civilization.
In that period, according to the video, Athens “was the center of the arts, theater, philosophy, and democracy.” In the city “great monuments of architecture were built and were largely associated with the Athenian general Pericles.”
It was Pericles who led the city-state during the first two years of the Peloponnesian War, the conflict in which Athens would eventually fall to Sparta in 404 BC — a defeat that had almost, but not quite come to the city at the moment Ancient Athens 3D creator Dimitris Tsalkanis brings it back to life. He includes everything from the Acropolis and the Agora to the Olympieion and the Sacred Gate, all looking as if they’ll stand forever.
Nor does Tsalkanis ignore even better-known classical Greek buildings like the Parthenon, whose detailed reconstruction, inside and out, also appears in its own video just above. Commissioned by Pericles, built on the Acropolis, and dedicated to the goddess Athena, “patroness of the city of Athens,” the building remains “a symbol of ancient Greece, democracy, and Western civilization” nearly two and half millennia after its construction, and more than two centuries after the Earl of Elgin had its mythology-depicting marbles sent off to England. You can still see them at the British Museum (at least for now), and for that matter you can still visit the Parthenon itself in Athens — or at least the ruins thereof, wholly untouched by digital magic.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.