The virtual reality tour of Rome at the heart of Rome Reborn started as a digital humanities project collaboratively developed by dozens of artists, classicists, archaeologists, and 3D modelers.
Even those visiting the ruins of the Roman Forum within the city of Rome today find it hard to envision the sheer magnitude of the marble, brick, and wooden structures that the populace of ancient Rome interacted with on a daily basis. However, a new virtual reality program called Rome Reborn allows easier access to the city than ever before — using either virtual reality headsets like Oculus Go or other digital devices.
Ancient Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was Rome Reborn. Since 1996, the Rome Reborn project has depended upon dozens of researchers to build sophisticated three dimensional models of antique structures that capture the dynamic architectural history of the Eternal City. Details such as painted (i.e. polychromatic) marbles and statues have been painstakingly inserted into the urban city plan. As a result, not only the structures, but also the vibrant color of the ancient world have been revivified. Helmed by project director and classicist Bernard Frischer, the ultimate goal of the project is to rebuild a shifting, interactive model of the city that extends from just before its mythical founding date in 753 BCE to the middle of the reign of the late Roman emperor Justinian around 550 CE, during the period of the Gothic Wars. Right now, viewers are limited to a bird’s eye flyover of the entire city, a tour of the Roman Forum, and a walk-through of the Basilica of Maxentius in the early 4th century CE.
The current model open to viewers explores the city at a time when we have some of the best evidence for its plan. Rome Reborn presents the city as the emperor Constantine would have viewed it in the year 320 CE, though in a rather pristine condition largely free from the realities of dirt, traffic, and seething crowds that shaped any experience within late antique Rome. The period is a pivotal transition point in the ancient city wherein there would be a slow increase in early Christian buildings such as basilicas and churches intermixing with older structures within the urban landscape such as the Pantheon and the Roman Senate House. While over 7,000 buildings and monuments are known through literature, maps, and the surviving regionary catalogues of the city of Rome, one must also keep in mind that the current model still contains an significant amount of educated conjecture. We only have firm archaeological evidence for about 265 buildings and monuments from ancient Rome in that period.
Update: Bernard Frischer, Director of the Rome Reborn Project, has written a response to the original post. Read the full response here.