Archaeology enables us to view the traces of a distant past. Up to about forty years ago few people visited archaeological sites and, generally speaking, they were educated enough to look at the ancient ruins and be able to imagine what they must have originally looked like.
In recent years, the number of visitors to archaeological areas has increased enormously and so it has become necessary to ensure that everyone can make sense of and understand the ruins of the past. Information and digital technology are now playing an enormous role in disseminating knowledge, especially by means of video reconstructions and “look all around you” 3D vision, based on the use of special virtual-reality headsets.
Thanks to a special joint project by the Special Superintendence of Rome, CoopCulture and the Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology of the National Research Council, this innovative technology has been put to use at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, which has become the first archaeological site in Italy to be entirely viewable in 3D, with virtual images viewed through an easily portable Cardboard Headset.
The bath complex, opened by the Emperor Caracalla, of the Severan dynasty, in 216 CE, are an extraordinary relic of the city’s past. In fact, they are the best preserved monumental baths of Ancient Rome and have maintained their structure almost intact.
Therefore, the building is ideally suited for an immersive 3D reconstruction, thanks to a georeferencing and orientation system that continuously reconstructs the image of whatever the viewer is looking at, in the headset, establishing a link between physical and virtual reality and enabling visitors to travel through time, between past and present, through the fourth dimension.
VIRTUAL AND FACTUAL REALITY
The long virtual 3D reconstruction process has required lot of meticulous historical and scientific work, based on the research work carried out over the past 30 years, in particular by Marina Piranomonte, the director of the monument and scientific curator of this project, with the assistance of the Austrian archaeologist Gunhild Jenewein, a great expert of the architectural decoration of the Baths.
Thousands of pages of monographic studies and essays, plus hundreds of surveys, photogrammetric analyses and 3D laser scans carried out by the Special Superintendence of Rome, in partnership with many other Italian and international institutions.
Only thanks to all this material has it been possible to produce a three-dimensional model, the closest possible to the original, based on which each element – from the shapes to the colours – has been attentively reconstructed. The transposition into images of the studies on the decorations has been made more lifelike through natural lighting, to ensure a more realistic rendering of the pavements, walls, columns and mosaics.
The statues, fountains and capitals have been treated separately. For centuries, in fact, the Baths of Caracalla were plundered and spoliated to build and adorn churches, palaces and squares. Nevertheless, we do know the present location of many of the statues that once decorated the monument, like the statue of Hercules, the so-called Farnese Bull and the large red porphyry basin, which can be found at the Archaeological Museum of Naples, while a twin statue of Hercules is in the Royal Palace of Caserta. Both these museums have collaborated in the project. The columns of the two Libraries were moved to the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, while two large granite basins adorn Piazza Farnese in Rome.
Yet more statues have been found in the digs carried out over the past forty years and preserved in the Museo Nazionale Romano, while the magnificent figurative capitals, considered among the most refined in Ancient Roman art, are on display in the subterranean area of the bath complex. Many of these art works have been photographed in three dimensions and integrated into the virtual system, while the damaged works have been rebuilt through a sort of digital restoration.
The virtual decorations have been put into place based on the writings and documents dating back to the time of the spoliation, by Antonio da Sangallo for example, or by comparison with other architectures of the Severan period.
Buy here virtual video guide Caracalla IVD