Friday, September 30, 2005

Wandering the Streets of 3-D Rome

Forget the dusty guidebooks and crumbling ruins - an exhibition that has opened in the midst of Rome's Forum invites visitors to don their 3-D glasses and watch the alluring dance of a slave who has been dead for two millennia, or stroll through the streets of ancient Rome with the click of a mouse.

Imagine Ancient Rome presents about 50 multimedia projects developed around the world that show the greatest monuments of the city as they used to be, reconstructing anything from the features of long-dead slaves and gladiators to entire cities of the Roman Empire.

"These monuments were meant to be visited but now they are just a bunch of random ruins," says Bernard Frischer, from the University of Virginia, who worked on two of the projects exhibited.

"What you want to do is put it all back together" he says.

The show runs through to November 20 and is set up among the ancient "tabernae", the shops and offices that lined the section of the forum built by the emperor Trajan.

Space was at a premium in ancient Rome and the cramped rooms of what was once the city's centre for public life can only accommodate a few visitors at a time.

But the wait may be worth it to wander through the computer-generated streets of the distant town of Complutum - east of what is now Madrid, Spain - or gaze into the eyes of the "slave of Murecine", a dancing reconstruction of a young female slave based on a skeleton found near Pompeii, one of thousands of victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that buried the city in AD79.

Mr Frischer, who heads the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at Virginia and worked with UCLA to build models of the Colosseum and the Roman forum, says such reconstructions also are of great use to researchers.

"In making a model, we don't put in only what we know, we also discover what we don't know," he says, explaining that experts often make new discoveries when they are forced to make educated guesses to fill in the gaps to reconstruct a building from its ruins.

Once a model is complete, it can also be used as a virtual lab in which to run experiments, he says, as a screen shows two animated gladiators being cheered by the crowd in the reconstructed Colosseum.

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