By Rachel Gonzalez
Rome is a cultural mecca with museums and sites at every turn. Tourists and scholars have flocked there for many years learning from its history and trying to decipher the clues left behind that tell the story of the past. Today light projection act as a visual aid for visitors by creating a kind of virtual window into the past. It may seem that places like the Forum of Augustus and especially the Colosseum are in no need of modern technology to get people interested, but these technologies are not to bring people through the door, they are there to enhance the experience of those who visit and give them a bright new angle of view. Three Roman locations in which light projection has made a debut are the Roman House (le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini), the Forum of Augustus and the Colosseum.
Currently, in the Colosseum’s gallery space a series of clips and photographs are being projected onto the side of a wall replaying depictions of the Colosseum throughout the history of art, newsreels, and historical films. By showing this the Colosseum is giving visitors the chance to experience an optical involvement that exceeds their imagination. While walking in the Colosseum’s exhibit space visitors come across several perspectives of the ruin from artists’ depictions to architectural models of what it might have looked like in its heyday. In the midst of the cacophony of depictions is the loop of projections. Having the video play on the actual wall of the Colosseum instead of on a separate screen adds a special element to the experience, the audience gets to virtually travel through time while being physically immersed in the structure. The Colosseum, however, is not the only place in Rome that enhances the experience with projection. There are other sites and museums taking advantage of the technology as well.
For instance, the Forum of Augustus has recently created a virtual experience with light, where people get to experience how the Forum once was in all its glory. The show narrates the history of the forum as it projects images of what it might have looked like. Viewers are seated on a balcony overlooking the forum and are equipped with headphones voicing the history in their language of preference. They are taken on a trip back in time with the sights and sounds of the time. The sound of water accompanies the narration and description of the fountains at the entrance of the forum where one might have found people gathered about. The projections bring an effervescence back to the forum that has not been seen for centuries. The light projection used on the Forum of Augustus is similar to that used by the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York with its Color the Temple exhibit where projected light “repaints” the hieroglyphics of the Temple of Dendurn in their original vibrancy. A 2015 article guides the reader through the process of the animation.
Another place taking advantage of the new and emerging technologies is the Roman House “le Domus Romane.” This site allows visitors to walk through a Roman house at the heart of the city. During the tour, light is projected on the walls and floor in accordance with the narration heard overhead. Videos are also shown on the walls showing floor plans and depictions of life in the time of the house. This is perhaps the most immersive of the three because patrons walk through the structure as the light show is happening to give the feeling of being a part of history. In the other spaces visitors are merely spectators of the show without a full 360° view.
All of these exhibits provide a new way of experiencing the past. Museumgoers no longer just walk around ruins and imagine what it could have been like, now they can physically see the past. This helps people understand the inhabitants of ancient Rome better and at a deeper level. Light enhancement is adding a new layer to Roman history and answering questions the audience didn’t know they had. Who knows what technology will do next?
Editors note: This column is one of a collection of journals kept by University of Texas at El Paso students during their 2017 study abroad experience with the program, The Layers of Rome. The Layers of Rome is both a study abroad program and an online educational resource for high school and college teachers who study Rome and its central role as a creator and disseminator of world culture.