[Preprint from: 2nd Italy-United States Workshop, Rome, Italy, November 3-6, 2003: The Reconstruction of Archaeological Landscapes through Digital Technologies, Organized by CNR-ITABC, Virtual Heritage Network, ECAI, University of California, Berkeley CDV,Field Museum of Chicago, UCLA Cultural Virtual Reality Laboratory]
Bernard Frischer, Director
Virtual World Heritage Laboratory
University of Virginia
Copyright 2004 by Bernard Frischer
From 1997 to 2003, the Cultural Virtual Laboratory (CVRLab) created a digital, real-time model of the Roman Forum as it may have appeared on June 21, 400 A.D. (see Frischer, Favro, et al. 2003). In this paper, I will focus on the Roman Forum and use it to address this conference’s theme—reconstructing the archaeological landscape with digital technology—by presenting it as a case study of the relationship between digital and what might be called “pre-digital” archaeological reconstruction.
The CVRLab was founded in 1997 with the dual mission of creating scientifically authenticated 3D computer models of cultural heritage sites, and of exploring ways of utilizing these models in research and instruction. Thus far, the lab has created models of sites from Lake Titicaca in Peru to Ani in Turkey, and from the Iron Age in Israel to the colonial period in the Caribbean. Our largest project to date is a digital model of the Roman Forum, the civic center of ancient Rome. For several reasons, this model can serve as an excellent example of the technologies and methodology typically used by the lab in its various projects around the world (on the history, mission, and methods of the lab see Frischer 2004; for additional information, see the lab’s Web site at www.cvrlab.org).
Before delving into the details of our digital Roman Forum project, I think it useful to mention why we think creating 3D computer models is a worthwhile activity and a legitimate part of digital archaeology. As Guidi notes in his recent book on archaeological methods, reconstructions used to be considered less important than other forms of archaeological activity and were thought to be mainly useful in teaching and site presentation (Guidi 1999: 103; for a good example see Clark et al. 2003). Guidi disputes this appraisal, arguing against any disparagement of archaeologists’ didactic role. He asserts that reconstruction is in fact the natural outcome of most archaeological research.
From our experience, I would mention a few other points that further develop what Guidi has written. First, didactic activity is indeed an important part of the archaeologist’s job description. In the past—as we can see evidenced in, for example, the Venice Charter of 1964—physical reconstruction and restoration of sites was considered justifiable precisely for this reason. But, as the work of Vaccaro made clear, physical restoration is highly problematic: it changes and sometimes even ruins the monument in the act of allegedly preserving it (Vaccaro 2000). For this reason, Vaccaro herself suggested that digital restoration is often preferable to physical reconstruction, and this insight has been incorporated into the newly proposed Ename Charter on the presentation of cultural heritage sites and landscapes.
Secondly, we generally find that the act of modeling is itself a process of discovery, and not just a passive translation from one medium to another of things we already knew. This is because no matter how much a scholar has thought about a site, until he can experience it in three dimensions, he will frequently ignore issues that simply do not arise when work is done in two-dimensional media. Thus, the members of our Scientific Committee for the project to model the Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome had never considered the problem of the covering and coloring of the interior space of the building; nor had they thought much about the nature and design of the pavement. Yet they had spent a collective total of several decades excavating, researching, and superintending the church (for further details, see Frischer et al. 2000: 159). Their experience is typical of that of almost every one of our Scientific Committees. In fact, it is analogous to what has been happening with physical architectural models since the time of Leon Battista Alberti, who, in his De re aedificatoria (1450), wrote that such models had often helped him to discover errors that he had made on paper in the design phase.
Finally, the models are not only experiential but also analytical tools (cf., in general, Barcelò 2000: 9). As is the case with digital corpora of texts, they make it practical to ask questions that, before they existed, would have taken an inordinate amount of time to answer, if we could have answered them at all. Thus, for example, our model of the Colosseum in Rome enabled us to challenge the validity of the commonplace that the building was an efficient people mover. In fact, we discovered a bottleneck that would have slowed down progress to the seats where the poorer spectators sat. In other analytical studies, VR technology has permitted scholars to test theories about the possible alignments of built features in the landscape with natural phenomena such as sunrise or sunset on an equinox or solstice (for an example, see Beex and Peterson 2003).
Fig 1: The Roman Forum today (view from east to west).
Let us turn to our digital model of the Roman Forum. The Forum stood at the literal and metaphorical center of ancient Rome. In the Forum were located from early times some of the major cult centers of the state religion as well as the places where important organs of government, such as the Senate, had their headquarters. The open plaza of the Forum was used at various times for markets, meetings, games and spectacles; and it was also the place where a number of important monuments and memorials were erected (see Purcell 1995).
Today, the Forum is largely in ruins (fig. 1). The best preserved structures are the Senate House and the Arch of Septimius Severus, but even these monuments have been greatly damaged with the passage of time. Of the great temples surrounding the plaza of the Forum, at most, only a few columns of the front or side porch survive. The Encyclopedia Britannica has aptly called the Forum the “confusing boneyard of history.” It is thus not surprising that, given its central importance in Roman studies, since the fifteenth century scholars have tried to reconstruct all or part of the Forum in an attempt to bring clarity and order to the jumble of remains that happen to be preserved. To do so, they have used words, two-dimensional views printed in books and engravings, or small-scale three-dimensional models made of materials like cork, wood, or plaster-of-Paris. It is worth recounting at least the outlines of the history of reconstructing ancient Rome because it will enable us to see how our new project consciously brings together the various approaches that have been used in the past and integrates them into a new synthesis.
The earliest urban historians of ancient Rome were Renaissance humanists such as Poggio Bracciolini and Flavio Biondo. Poggio was a papal secretary and a famous discoverer of Latin texts, including seven speeches of Cicero. His interests were not only literary: he found the famous ninth-century Einsiedeln Itinerary, with its description of early medieval Rome; and, as early as 1430, he compiled a collection of inscriptions from the city. His essay, De varietate fortunae, was begun around the same time and is considered the founding text of Roman topographical studies. As Burckhardt lamented, “wäre nur Poggios Arbeit viel ausgedehnter und mit Abbildungen versehen!“ But despite its limitations, it encouraged others to study the ancient ruins.
Poggio’s slightly younger colleague in the papal chancellery, Flavio Biondo, continued these topographical studies with the publication in the late 1440s of Roma Instaurata, or Rome Restored. This has been justly called the first scholarly topography of Rome (Callmer 1954: 42; Malina and Vašíček 1990: 18). It marks progress beyond Poggio since Biondo cites his sources and because he presents the sites and monuments of the ancient city in a systematic fashion.
If we still look back to Poggio and Biondo, it is not simply because they were the pioneers of our field; they are also forerunners of the so-called “philological” approach to archaeology, which was to be explicitly formulated by Eduard Gerhard in the mid-nineteenth century (Schnapp 1996: 304-310) and which is still very much alive and well today. The philological approach implies two things: first, that the visible remains are interpreted in the light of historical texts; and secondly, that the goal of archaeological study—as of philological investigation—is an accurate reconstruction of the object of study and of its transmission over time.
It is unknown whether Biondo planned to enhance his verbal reconstruction of ancient Rome with illustrations or at least a map. If so, no evidence survives, and in general we may say that philological archaeology by humanists and actual survey of the ancient remains by architects were two unrelated activities throughout the Renaissance and were, not coincidentally, to remain so when centuries later Gerhard founded the school of philological archaeology at the University of Berlin (Schnapp 1996: 309).
Fig. 2: Leon Battista Alberti’s Descriptio urbis Romae.
As far as we know, the great Florentine architect, Leon Battista Alberti, was not aware of the work of Poggio or Biondo when he wrote his Descriptio urbis Romae in the 1440s. This little book describes how to measure the distances between buildings in Rome and how to plot them on a map. In fig. 2 can be seen the circle that Alberti lays out surrounding the city so that all points within it can be referenced precisely by the circle’s coordinates. No map of Rome from Alberti’s hand survives, but it was not long before Pietro del Massaio illustrated a Florentine edition of Ptolemy’s Geography with a map of Rome drawn according to Alberti’s method (fig. 3).
Fig. 3: Pietro del Massaio, map of Rome Ptolemy’s Geography.
The map reflects its author’s interests, and--despite the presence of St. Peter’s at the bottom right as well as a few nondescript churches scattered throughout the city—del Massaio’s attention appears to have been directed very much toward the ancient pagan monuments such as the aqueducts, the Colosseum, Pantheon, and the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius. But, important as the del Massaio map may be because it is the first “modern” plan of the city, in the end it leaves much to be desired: to mention only a few of its major shortcomings, it pays short shrift to the road system; and it never decides whether it wants to be a state plan of the city as it was in the mid-fifteenth century, or a reconstruction of the city as it appeared in antiquity.
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Frischer, B. and D. Favro, D. Abernathy, and M. De Simone, 2003. “The Digital Roman Forum Project of the UCLA Cultural Virtual Reality Laboratory,” International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, Vol. XXXIV-5/W10; available online at: http://www.frischerconsulting.com/frischer/pdf/FrischerEtAlRomanForum.pdf (seen October 29, 2009).
Frischer, B. and P. Stinson, 2004. “Scientific Verification and Model-making Methodology: Case Studies of the Virtual Reality Models of the House of Augustus (Rome) and the Villa of the Mysteries (Pompeii),” forthcoming in the Conference Papers of Heritage, New Technologies & Local Development, The Ename Center, Ghent 11-13 September 2002, 20 pp. in ms. available online at: http://www.frischerconsulting.com/frischer/pdf/Frischer_Stinson.pdf (seen October 29, 2009).
Frischer, B., 2004. "Mission and Recent Projects of the UCLA Cultural Virtual Reality Laboratory," in Acts of Virtual Retrospect 2003, Biarritz, France 6-7 November 2003; (forthcoming); available online at: http://www.frischerconsulting.com/frischer/pdf/FrischerVirtRetro2003.pdf (seen October 29, 2009).
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LIST OF FIGURES
Fig. 1: The Roman Forum today. Photo: Bernard Frischer.
Fig. 2: Leon Battista Alberti, Descriptio urbis Romae, paper; 1440s; Chigi M VII 149, fol. 3 recto. Source: Grafton 1993.
Fig. 3: Pietro del Massaio, view of Rome from Ptolemy, Geography, 1469; Vat. Lat. 5699, fol. 127 r. Source: Grafton 1993.
Fig. 4: Pirro Ligorio, Antiquae urbis imago. Source: Grafton 1993.
Fig. 5: Pirro Ligorio, Anteiquae urbis imago (detail of area around the Colosseum). Source: Grafton 1993.
Fig. 6: Piranesi: Campus Martius (detail with area around the Pantheon), from Joannis Baptistae Piranesii antiquariorum Regiae Societatis Londinensis Socii Campus Martius Antiquae Urbis, Romae 1762, p. 38b. Source: Opere di Giovani Battista Piranesi, copyright 2003 by Masanori Aoyagi, available online at http://www.picure.l.u-tokyo.ac.jp:8080/e_piranesi.html.
Fig. 7: Giambattista Piranesi’s send-up of De Chaupy from Diverse maniere d’adornare i cammini (1769).
Fig. 8: Giambattista Piranesi's "Aut-aut" engraving, title page of Osservazioni sopra la letre de M. Mariete (Rome, 1765).
Fig. 9: Antonio Chichi, Arch of Titus, ca. 1787. Source: Wilton and Bignamini, 1996.
Fig. 10: Fiorelli’s model of Pompeii at a scale of 1:100, dated 1879; Naples Archaeological Museum. Photo: Bernard Frischer.
Fig. 11: View of Paul Bigot’s model of imperial Rome at MRSH, Université de Caen. Photo: Bernard Frischer.
Fig. 12: Reconstruction sketch of the Roman Forum in late antiquity by F. Cairoli Giuliani in Giuliani-Verduchi 1980.
Fig. 13: The CVRLab digital model seen from approximately the same viewpoint as the reconstruction by Giuliani-Verduchi 1980.
Fig. 14: The CVRLab model of the Forum with the Navigator window open.
Fig. 15: The CVRLab Forum model with the Metadata Window open.
 It is a pleasure to acknowledge the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which gave the UCLA Cultural Virtual Reality Laboratory a generous grant in 2001-2002 that enabled it to complete the bulk of the Roman Forum model. Earlier sponsors and clients of the lab made it possible for preliminary work on the Forum model to commence as early as 1997. It is a pleasure to thank the following: the Creative Kids Education Foundation, Dr. Stephen Hunt, Intel, Dr. Jama Laurent, Mr. Kirk Mathews, Microsoft, and the Steinmetz Family of Los Angeles. For their tireless contributions and responses to our inquiries, we are also grateful to the external members of our Roman Forum Scientific Committee (Prof. Russell T. Scott, Bryn Mawr College; and Prof. Cairoli Giuliani, University of Rome "La Sapienza”). Finally, we express our thanks to the following units at UCLA with which the Cultural Virtual Reality is affiliated and whose help and support have been crucial: Academic Technology Services, the Center for Digital Humanities, the Department of Architecture, the Institute of Social Science Research, and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
 On the didactic function of early modern urban models, see F. Marias 1999: 228 and 228n17.
 International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (Venice Charter, 1964); for the text see http://www.international.icomos.org/ centre_documentation/ chartes_ eng.htm (seen February 1, 2004).
 International Guidelines for Authenticity, Intellectual Integrity and Sustainable Development in the Public Presentation of Archaeological and Historical Sites and Landscapes (Ename Charter, 2002 [draft 2]); for the text see http://www.pcl-eu.de/project/virt_lib/charter.pdf (seen February 1, 2004). On the articles of the Ename Charter pertaining to digital reconstruction and restoration, see Frischer and Stinson 2004.
 Alberti 1966: vol. II, pp. 860-862: “Per quanto mi riguarda, debbo dire che molto frequentemente mi è venuto fatto di concepire delle opere in forme ch a tutta prima mi parevano lodevolissime, mentre invece una volta disegnate, rivelavano errori, e gravissimi, proprio in quella parte che più mi era piaciuta; tornando poi di nuovo con la meditazione su quanto avevo disegnato, e misurandone le proporzioni, riconoscevo e deploravo la mia incuria; infine avendo fabricato i modelli, spesso, esaminandone partitamente gli elementi, mi accorgevo di essedrmi sbagliato anche sul numero.” Cf. also the remarks on the importance of architectural models for visualization and planning in Habsburg Vienna in M. Krapf 1999: 410.
 "Rome," Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service; accessed February 10, 2004 at http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=117430.
 “If only Poggio’s work had been more expansive and illustrated!” (Burkhardt no date [originally published in 1860 ]: 118).
 In the nineteenth century we may even glimpse a conscious deprecation of architectural models parallel to what we find with ancient casts in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Cf. Krapf 1999: 397. Krapf notes that “it is an astonishing but hitherto neglected fact that, although the Baroque model, as this essay will try to show, is a standard tool of everyday building in the extant eighteenth-century sources, not a single model of ‘imperial Vienna,’ of ‘Vienna gloriosa Hasburgica,’ has survived…As to why this should be so, one can only advance hypotheses: one is that carelessness and indolence are to blame; that the models were preserved for a while, but then, especially during the nineteenth-century contempt for the Baroque, simply ‘disposed of’ because of their relative bulk and fragility….”