My wife and I frequently engage in a strange kind of “culture war.” She thinks ancient Rome is the more interesting civilization, and I’m partial to ancient Greece. In these debates, I always tell her that I prefer philosophers to politicians. Still, I was excited when I first encountered Rome Reborn, a joint project between UVA’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, a few other schools, and Google (who allows access to the project through Google Earth). The goal of Rome Reborn is to create a 3D digital model of ancient Rome in the year 320. There are plans to extend the project over time, so that you will be able to track the development and growth of the city over time. The buildings have all been reconstructed by computer modeling, and mapped onto Rome’s actual terrain. What a cool project.
I should say, before continuing, that if you want to check out Rome Reborn for yourself, you might have some trouble getting to it. First, you need to download Google Earth. Then, you need to turn on the “Ancient Rome 3D” layer, which listed under the “Gallery” layers. Next, get to Rome, zoom into the ancient city and click on a yellow building, which brings a popup window to add the ancient terrain, landmarks, and buildings. Then, you are finally ready to enjoy the model. (But be warned, if you don’t have a good computer with a fast processor and a hefty bit of RAM, you’ll only send yourself into conniptions rather than enjoy the grandeur of this ancient civilization.)
My first impression, in wandering through the reconstructed forum on Google Earth, was of how chock-a-block the buildings are. You realize how many of the buildings are right on top of one another. You do get this feeling in person, walking around the ruins, but the 3D model captures the hustle and bustle of a true big city that is not conveyed adequately by pictures alone. This project will help scholars puzzle over details of the architecture itself, but having it available to such a wide audience on Google will also help those just learning about Rome. It has the potential to spark students’ interest in learning—for me, this is well worth the effort.