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The western side of the Roman forum as seen in the Rome Reborn virtual reality tour. Photo: AFP

Virtual reality project takes visitors on a tour of ancient Rome as it looked in AD320

  • The Rome Reborn VR tour takes in more than 7,000 restored buildings and monuments
  • Future virtual tour activities will include training as gladiators and racing chariots

Gazing upon the splendours of ancient Rome is no longer a luxury reserved for visitors to the Italian capital, as temples opened their doors internationally with a digital project launched on Wednesday after decades of planning.

The Rome Reborn tour is the first to show users over 7,000 buildings and monuments from the year AD320, allowing both those with virtual reality goggles or just a computer to explore over 14 square kilometres (five-and-a-half square miles).

“I first came up with the idea in 1974. I was determined to find a way to bring these wonderful monuments to the world, but the technology didn’t exist then,” says the project’s director, digital archaeologist Bernard Frischer.

“We had to redesign the model three times as technology advanced, but 22 years after we began, and US$3 million later, we’re finally here,” he says.

Visitors to the Rome Reborn project use virtual reality goggles to view a digital reconstruction of Rome. Photo: AFP

Users can currently do a “flyover” of ancient Rome and stop and explore two sites, the Roman forum and the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, designed with input from a team of archaeologists.

“We chose AD320 because we have the most information for that period, so we can be as accurate as possible, and after that the empire’s capital moved to Constantinople,” says 69-year-old Frischer.

“At the moment you can travel in a virtual hot air balloon over the ancient city, and teleport between different parts of historic sites to see them as they were and learn more about them.

“In the next two to three years we will add other key sites, such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon,” he says.

A bird's-eye view of the Roman forum. Photo: AFP
Professor Bernard Fischer in front of a slide representing a virtual reconstruction of ancient Rome in AD320. Photo: AP

Users are able to switch between views of the monuments as they look today – the ruined remains – and as they were then.

The project is named after the words of 15th century papal secretary Flavio Biondo, who is the first documented person to have called for a reconstruction of ancient Rome.

A virtual look at the centre of Rome in AD320. Photo: AFP

Frischer, a classics scholar who teaches virtual heritage, says users wearing virtual reality goggles would eventually be able to train together as gladiators in the Colosseum or race each other in chariots around the Circus Maximus.

Flyover Zone, the company behind Rome Reborn, plans to reconstruct Athens in the time of Socrates and Jerusalem in the period of Jesus Christ.

It is not the only project which allows people to see Rome as it was under various emperors, but those wanting to explore Nero’s Domus Aurea palace and the Caracalla thermal baths have to use virtual reality goggles on site.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Virtual reality resurrects ancient Rome