The Digit(Etern)al City. How Rome illuminates the past

Today was the last day to experience a 2000-year-old digital show. So what it was, was it worth it, and was it actually an art? 

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A view on a Forum of Caesar. Photo by the Author. 

 

Rocks. Lots of them. That’s what you can see at the archeological sites along Via dei Fori Imperiali, the road leading to the Roman Colosseum. It cuts through two rectangular spaces which, two thousand years ago, were the pearls of the Roman architecture, art, and politics; the Forum of Caesar and the Forum of Augustus. Now, they are just stones surrounded by hordes of tourists.

If only stones could tell tales

But wait.

In the Eternal City, they can.

ANIMATION ART GIF. Found on GIPHY.

Viaggo nei Fori, or “A Journey through Forums”, is a spectacular visual tour through lights, words, and sounds. The project started in 2014, celebrating a bimillennium of the death of Augustus, and originally involved a digital projection only on his Forum. Just one year later, the projection on the opposite Forum of Caesar was added.

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Digital projection on the Forum of Augustus. Shot from Viaggio nei Fori – FORUM OF AUGUSTUS by Viaggio nei fori

On the Forum of Augustus, the digital projection uses a surface of almost 300 meters long wall that surrounds the Forum, which is very, very ancient. It’s like ten one-story houses put one next to each other. Pretty cool.

Viaggio nei Fori brings to life the marble stones and columns. During the show, the pieces are precisely pointed out using lights, even though they are lying all over the place. Using captivating and vivid animations, the stones not only seem to tell their stories, but also change colors, sizes, and locations

RYSE: SON OF ROME RYSE GIFS GIF. Found on GIPHY.

And you? You are guided by both vision and sound, as you are in an elevated sitting area in front of the Augustus’ Forum. Through your headphones, you are hearing exciting sound effects, dramatic music, and both informative and fascinating narration in English, Italian, Spanish, French, Russian, Japanese, German or Chinese. Okay, the music is slightly too dramatic, but the rest is just fine. 

With a little help of digital art, the ancient marvels are effortlessly brought back from the past, in the front of your very eyes.

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(presumably) Julius Caesar statue, the British Museum. Photo by William Warby

The digital projection on the Forum of Caesar is more of a motion experience. Both shows are impelling motion as a consequence of the dynamic animations and light effects, and as notices Amanda Ruggeri, a travel journalist for the BBC and the National Geographic, in her blog about Rome, the digital shows on both Forums

lead visitors through a usually-inaccessible archaeological site.

However, on the Forum of Caesar, the viewer is a physical visitor. You walk underneath the Via dei Fori Imperiali, you walk throughout the Forum of Caesar itself, you walk between the columns and walls. Not only these spaces are animated by various digital effects, but also are inaccessible for tourists on a daily bases. 

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Digital projection on the Forum of Caesar. Shot from Foro di Cesare – Viaggio nei fori Roma – video promo by Viaggio nei fori

Viaggio nei Fori is a creation of Paco Lanciano, who is an Italian physicist and science writer, and Piero Angela, a famous Italian television host, writer, and science journalist. 

One of the best people to ask about the technical details of the project is Siro Volpato, Commercial Director for Central Italy of the video and sound company, Adeo. After working with other specialists from the field, he explained that for large images they used the Panasonic PT-EX16KE series, characterized with 380W lamps, 16,000 lumens of brightness, and a contrast ratio of 2,500:1. For detail, however, the Panasonic PT-VX500 series was used, with 5,000 lumens and a contrast 3,000:1.

Getting even deeper into the technical side, on Panasonic website we can read that throughout the show, the total of 33 Panasonic projectors was used, that synchronize with each other. Moreover, thanks to “predetermined road map,” the projectors are “able to perform a realignment of any lag, even of just a few milliseconds.”

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Digital projection on the Forum of Caesar. Shot from Foro di Cesare – Viaggio nei fori Roma – video promo by Viaggio nei fori

exceptionally sophisticated sound and light show that each night fleetingly recreates the staggering temples and palaces.

But what is the artistic value of the Viaggio nei Fori project? One can argue that there is none. It has a clearly touristy nature, while, for instance, the Chicago’s Art on theMART digital projection, is indeed a fusion of art and digital.

The digitalization of spaces in Rome has been happening for a few years now, including finding innovative and expressive ways of giving the historical sites new identities, for instance in the project Videocitta. Viaggio nei Fori seems more like an educational experience.

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Reconstructive view of the Forum of Augustus from Museo dei Fori Imperiali in Rome. Photo by Carole Raddato. | A projection of Forum of Augustus. Shot from Viaggio nei Fori – FORUM OF AUGUSTUS by Viaggio nei fori

However, what might be an added artistic value of Viaggio nei Fori is the use of real historical spaces as a canvas for ancient paint, ancient marble, and ancient life. 

The digital technology is used not to create the new art, but to bring back the art of the past. It reflects the magnificence of the antiquity by modern solutions and interpretations based on historical sources.

Viaggio nei Fori also creates a fresh, complex, and innovative view on history by constantly shifting the layers of past and present.

ARTISTS ON TUMBLR SNAIL GIF BY BADBLUEPRINTS. Found on GIPHY.

By putting a digital, yet 2000-year-old layer on top of the ruins, Viaggio nei Fori proposes a different angle on the relation between the past and present, the real and unreal, and perhaps between the tourist and historian. 

After seeing both of the shows, I can assure you that no photos or videos of the projections are good enough. No digital or physical material can convey the effectiveness of the visual and emotional narration that the shows on the Forum of Augustus and the Forum of Caesar carry.

 The effect? Spectacular

 

 

STATUES GIF. Found on GIPHY

“We invite you to enjoy a cultural, educational, emotional and spectacular experience, that is also original and surprising. The findings are the protagonists of this experience and technology will help us to appreciate it. You will be enchanted by the real life, the ancient world, and history.”

said Paco Lanciano, one of the creators of the projects.

But what do the viewers say?

Viaggio nei Fori was recommended to me by many friends, who often called it one of the best tourist attractions in Rome. It is definitely something different, something spectacular and visually captivating. However, without the sound effects and narration, it loses a lot of its power. From the perspective of a tourist, an art lover, and a person who wrote a research paper about the Forum of Augustus, I would give it 4 out of 5.

According to Trip Advisor, out of 1,226 reviews of the projections on the Forums, 827 were excellent and 321 were very good.

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An opinion of the Trip Advisor user on Viaggio nei Fori from the year when the project started. 
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An opinion of the Trip Advisor user on Viaggio nei Fori from 2018. (“Even the husband said it is well done!“) 

 

ANIMATED GIF. Found on GIPHY.

Although the show has officially ended in November 2018, considering its successfulness, it’ll perhaps come back in 2019. I will keep you posted. 

Would you like to experience this digital show on your own? Or maybe you know somebody who saw it or would like to see it? Be sure to leave a comment and share this post on your Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google+, with your friends, neighbors, cat, and eventually, a dog.

UPDATE: as of June 2019, the projections are back again.

The featured image is a shot from Foro di Cesare – Viaggio nei fori Roma – video promo by Viaggio nei fori

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