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Rome Reborn

Archaeologists unveil a 3-D model of the great city circa A.D. 400

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The undertaking was enormous—more than 100 people from Italy, the United States, Germany and Britain worked on the project. But the model isn't just for academics. "Rome Reborn" has been licensed commercially and promises to give some of the 20 million tourists who visit Rome each year a rich taste of what the city once looked like. In a converted playhouse a few steps from the Coliseum, a unique application for this unique computer project is taking shape. Using the Rome Reborn model as a foundation, Joel Myers of Rewind Rome is hoping to build an immersive, theme park-like orientation center. "Most people have very little real idea of what it looked like and felt like," says Myers. "The idea is to immerse audience in the past."

First, though, Myers is going to have to throw around some digital mud. As an academic tool, Frischer's Rome is closer to an architectural drawing than a cinematic experience. "It's not lived in at all—there's no graffiti, no mud on the walls, no hustle and bustle," Myers says. "There's no story to it." Between now and the Rewind Rome opening on April 21, 2008—according to legend, Rome's 2760th birthday—Myers and his team will populate the model with tens of thousands of characters and add layers of texture and digital grit.

Frischer hopes the model will give people a better sense of the city's spirit—and, perhaps, help people learn from its fate. "A republic is not a foregone conclusion. If we forget how special the republican form of government is, we could lose it," says Frischer. "Rome is a textbook case of a republic that failed." Indeed, the spectacular vision captured in the digital "Rome Reborn" model is a snapshot of a society on the brink: In A.D. 400, Rome had more than a million inhabitants. Just two hundred years later, it had 10,000.

Smithsonian.

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