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Walking around Ancient Rome

No sooner had I finished the on-line course on the “Hobbit”, when I got an email from FutureLearn saying in effect “If you liked that, how about this?”, and pointing me towards a free short course run by the University of Reading on Ancient Rome.

The USP of this particular course is that it’s based on a 3D model of the city, as it might have looked in its heyday. The lecturer has used architectural CAD software to build models of individual houses, temples, baths, forums , aqueducts etc, then assembled them all into one huge digital model which you can navigate through.

The basic software he’s used is called SketchUp; it’s available as freeware for PCs, and in fact I’ve used it in the past myself. When Christopher and I were considering getting the extension built, we used SketchUp to build a 3D model of it from the architect’s drawings, so that we could visualise what it might look like. It was easy to get started with SketchUp, but pretty tricky to build an accurate scale model of even a single building from plans and drawings. So I’m in awe of the amount of work it must have taken to build a representation of an entire city of a million inhabitants.

Part of the course involves downloading sections of his model and then  “walking” an avatar around it. That’s a bit hit and miss on my iPad, as my so-called broadband is not really up to the job of downloading a complex CAD model. But on the occasions I can get it to work, it’s quite fun. Yesterday I found myself walking around the Pantheon, with nobody else there!

I’ve been to Rome a number of times, most recently on a specialist archaeological trip looking specifically at how the ancient city has left its mark in the present day. So I’m pretty familiar with the background and content of this course, but it has still been really interesting to  visualise how the city might have looked two thousand years ago. It’s not entirely accurate of course – not only has the lecturer had to use lots of educated guess-work where the archaeological evidence is missing, but it all looks clean and pristine, with none of the dirt, mess and chaos that there must have been. Nevertheless, provided you accept the limitations of the model, it’s a very good way of “bringing alive” how Ancient Rome might have looked and worked.