Mike Aquilina

Virtual Rome

Wednesday November 12th 2008, 9:25 pm

The London Times takes us, via Google Earth, to Rome as Constantine I knew it.

The glory that was Rome is to rise again. Visitors will once more be able to visit the Colosseum and the Forum of Rome as they were in 320 AD, this time on a computer screen in 3D.

The realisation of the ancient city in Google Earth lets viewers stand in the centre of the Colosseum, trace the footsteps of the gladiators in the Ludus Magnus and fly under the Arch of Constantine.

The computer model, a collection of more than 6,700 buildings, depicts Rome in the year 320 AD. Then, under the emperor Constantine I, the city boasted more than a million inhabitants –- making it the largest metropolis in the world. It was not until Victorian London that another city surpassed it.

The project has been developed by Google in collaboration with the Rome Reborn Project and Past Perfect Productions. The computer graphics are based on a physical model – the Plastico di Roma Antica, which was created by archaeologists and model-makers between 1933 and 1974 and is housed in the Museum of Roman Civilisation in Rome. There are only 300 original ruins still standing today.

I still think Evelyn Waugh did a better job of taking us back to Constantine’s Rome, in his novel Helena. In the most recent issue of First Things, George Weigel argues that Helena was the first postmodern novel. I don’t know about that. I do know it’s side-splittingly funny. And it was Waugh’s own favorite among his works. If you haven’t read Helena, you owe it to yourself. It’ll take your mind off the stock market and any number of elections.