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Rome reborn in virtual glory

June 12, 2007
Courtesy University of Virginia
and World Science staff

An in­terna­t­ional group of ar­chae­o­lo­gists, ar­chi­tects and com­put­er spe­cial­ists have recre­ated an­cient Rome in a three-di­men­sion­al com­put­er sim­ula­t­ion.

The It­a­lian, British, U.S. and German team used la­ser scan­ners and vir­tu­al real­ity to build what they called the big­gest, most com­plete sim­ula­t­ion of an his­tor­ic city to date.

A still im­age from the "Rome Reborn." For vi­deo­clips, click on im­age, then click on "gallery," then on "vi­deo clips."


The sim­ula­t­ion, “Rome Re­born 1.0,” shows al­most the whole city with­in the 13-mile-long Au­re­li­an Walls as it ap­peared in 320 A.D. Rome was then the cap­i­tal of the west­ern world and had reached its peak of de­vel­op­ment with an es­ti­mat­ed one mil­lion in­hab­i­tants.

Rome’s may­or of­fi­ci­at­ed on June 11 at the first pub­lic view­ing of the re­con­struc­tion. It is the fruit of a 10-year proj­ect based at the Un­ivers­ity of Vir­gin­ia in Char­lottes­ville, Va., and be­gun at the Un­ivers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les.

Users can nav­i­gate through the mod­el freely, mov­ing up, down, left and right. They can en­ter ma­jor pub­lic build­ings such as the Ro­man Sen­ate House, the Col­os­se­um, or the Tem­ple of Ve­nus and Rome, the an­cient city’s larg­est place of wor­ship. 

As new dis­cov­er­ies are made, “Rome Re­born 1.0” can be easily up­dat­ed to re­flect the lat­est knowl­edge, de­vel­op­ers said. Fu­ture re­leases of the pro­gram are to in­clude oth­er phases in the ev­o­lu­tion of the city from the late Bronze Age in the 10th cen­tu­ry B.C. to the Goth­ic Wars in the 6th cen­tu­ry A.D. Vi­deoclips and still im­ages of “Rome Re­born 1.0” can be viewed at www.romereborn.virginia.edu.

In re­cent years sci­en­tists, his­to­ri­ans and ar­chae­o­lo­gists have em­braced 3D mod­eling of his­to­ric sites. In­forma­t­ion tech­nol­o­gy has let them rec­re­ate build­ings and mon­u­ments that no long­er ex­ist or to dig­it­ally re­store sites dam­aged with time. The re­sults can be used both in re­search to test new the­o­ries and in teach­ing to take stu­dents on vir­tu­al tours. “Rome Re­born” is billed as the most am­bi­tious such proj­ect ev­er un­der­taken. 

It’s “the con­tinua­t­ion of five cen­turies of re­search by schol­ars, ar­chi­tects and artists since the Ren­ais­sance who have at­tempted to re­store the ru­ins of the an­cient city with words, maps and im­ages,” said Ber­nard Frischer, di­rec­tor of the “Rome Re­born” proj­ect and di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Ad­vanced Tech­nol­o­gy in the Hu­man­i­ties at the Un­ivers­ity of Vir­gin­ia. 

“The proj­ect was an enor­mous tech­ni­cal chal­lenge, and now that we have suc­cess­fully met it, we can easily start build­ing up a li­brary of oth­er city mod­els in mu­se­ums around the world,” added Ga­bri­e­le Guidi of IN­DACO Lab at Po­litec­nico di Mi­la­no, a un­ivers­ity in Mi­lan that col­la­bo­rat­ed in the proj­ect.


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An international group of archaeologists, architects and computer specialists have recreated ancient Rome in a three-dimensional computer simulation. The team from Italy, the United States, Britain and Germany employed the same high-tech tools used for simulating contemporary cities such as laser scanners and virtual reality to build the biggest, most complete simulation of an historic city ever created. The simulation, “Rome Reborn 1.0,” shows almost the whole city within the 13-mile-long Aurelian Walls as it appeared in 320 A.D. Rome was then the capital of the western world and had reached its peak of development with an estimated one million inhabitants. On Aug. 11, Rome’s mayor officiated at the first public viewing of the reconstruction, the fruit of a 10-year project based at the University of Virginia and begun at the University of California, Los Angeles. Users can navigate through the model with complete freedom, moving up, down, left and right at will. They can enter major public buildings such as the Roman Senate House, the Colosseum, or the Temple of Venus and Rome, the ancient city’s largest place of worship. As new discoveries are made, “Rome Reborn 1.0” can be easily updated to reflect the latest knowledge, developers said. Future releases of the program are to include other phases in the evolution of the city from the late Bronze Age in the 10th century B.C. to the Gothic Wars in the 6th century A.D. Video clips and still images of “Rome Reborn 1.0” can be viewed at www.romereborn.virginia.edu. In recent years scientists, historians and archaeologists around the world have embraced 3D modeling of cultural heritage sites. Information technology has let them recreate buildings and monuments that no longer exist or to digitally restore sites damaged with time. The results can be used both in research to test new theories and in teaching to take students on virtual tours. “Rome Reborn” is billed as the most ambitious such project ever undertaken. It’s “the continuation of five centuries of research by scholars, architects and artists since the Renaissance who have attempted to restore the ruins of the ancient city with words, maps and images,” said Bernard Frischer, director of the “Rome Reborn” project and director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. “The project was an enormous technical challenge, and now that we have successfully met it, we can easily start building up a library of other city models in museums around the world,” added Gabriele Guidi of INDACO Lab at Politecnico di Milano, a university in Milan that collaborated in the project.