The first is a project called Rome Reborn ( www.romereborn.virginia.edu), said to be the world’s biggest computer simulation. The real-time 3D model of the city—created over a period of 10 years by a team of architects, archaeologists and experts from the University of Virginia and the Los Angeles branch of the University of California, as well as research institutes in Italy, Germany and the UK—features some 7,000 buildings. A vast model of the city in AD320 that was kept at the Museum of Roman Civilisation formed the basis, along with photos of modern Rome, and shows the city at its peak, when it had grown to a million inhabitants. The interiors of about 30 buildings, complete with frescoes and decorations, have been reconstructed, including the Senate, Colosseum and the basilica built by the emperor Maxentius.
The project will be updated as further archaeological discoveries come to light and will be used to carry out research into ancient Rome’s way of life. ‘This is the first step in the creation of a virtual time machine, which our children and grandchildren will use to study the history of Rome and many other great cities around the world,’ says Bernard Frischer, the project’s leader and head of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities.
Less erudite is the second series of one of last year’s great guilty pleasures, the mini-series Rome. Mixing ordinary people with familiar faces from history and literature, it brings the city to dirty, brawling, lusty life. The last series ended with the murder of Julius Caesar in the Senate, and we pick up the action immediately to discover the bloody aftermath, before following the characters’ fortunes until the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra (depressingly, on the messageboards last year, people were reproved for revealing that Caesar was killed).
Although there have been criticisms of the series’ historical accuracy—despite the fact it might be argued that you’re not watching a documentary—one of its greatest strengths is that you’re reminded that ancient Rome was a living city rather than the land of pristine white togas, gleaming white marble and impeccable diction that we’re more used to. It is pure soap opera, but then so was I Claudius.
And above all, it boasts a highly talented (mainly British) ensemble cast, including James Purefoy, Polly Walker, Lindsay Duncan, Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson and Tobias Menzies, all at the top of their game.
Pour yourself a large glass of your favourite Italian tipple, turn off the phone and take a trip back in time.
Rome begins on June 20 on BBC2 at 9pm and is repeated on Thursdays at 11.20pm